Janelle, and AJ…I’d like to congratulate you for writing two fantastic shorts. May the best writer win.
This cage match has become an intense battle, ladies, and gentlemen. Please read the following pair of shorts then cast a vote for your favorite. The stories are shown without writer attribution to keep things as fair, and unbiased, as possible. The poll will be open until 6 PM on Wednesday, June 29th. At that time a winner will be announced, and will be interviewed on this blog on Sunday, July 3rd.
I’ve included the prompt below, with the stories to follow. The poll is located at the end of the second story. Thank you in advance for your vote.
Senator Douglas Roberts, wife Meg, and 3 year old daughter, Emlyn, were strolling down the hall of the Russell Senate Office Building, when they encountered a fellow senator. As they paused just outside Douglas’s office, the young couple became immersed in conversation with the fellow politician.
Unbeknownst to the couple, young Emlyn opened the door and entered her father’s office, heading directly for the enticing box with the flashing lights, and digital numbers, laying in the corner.
The Douglas’s heard a high-pitched scream eminate from inside the office. The couple rushed in to find their daughter crawling across the carpet, her hand caught in the mechanism of what appeared to be an intricate explosive device.
The pair froze in horror, when suddenly a movement in their peripheral vision caught their attention. A middle-aged man, of foreign descent, made for the door.
Hook, Line, and Sinker
Senator Douglas Roberts stepped out of the comfort of his heated car and into the brisk October temperatures in Washington D.C. Just two days earlier it had snowed in the “Heart of Democracy”; a concept lost on the Texas senator.
Douglas, with his wife and daughter trailing a few feet behind, walked across the secured parking lot to a private entrance of the Russell Senate Office.
“Good morning Senator Roberts,” a youthful security guard greeted the middle aged senator. “You’re here a bit early. Even for you, sir,” he said as he looked down at his wristwatch.
Douglas checked his phone; it was quarter ‘til eight. “Yep,” the senator replied. “I just need to tie up a few loose ends in the office, and then I’m taking the family up to Baltimore for the day.” The senator was excited to spend a day off with his family. It would be the first in quite a while.
The security guard scanned Douglas’s security badge then opened the door. “Well, safe travels, sir. Have a good day.”
“Thank you,” Douglas said as he motioned for his wife and daughter to pass through the door.
The family walked inside and made their way to the rotunda. Though a little out of the way from Douglas’s office, Emlyn, the couple’s three-year-old daughter, loved walking through the cavernous room, and giggled the entire time.
Douglas’s leather Oxfords echoed throughout the large space; part of the reason why Emlyn enjoyed the room so much. Douglas didn’t often come this way, out of convenience, but did enjoy observing the beauty of the architecture. The columns, the sculptures, the unbelievable craftsmanship of those who built the room; it was nothing short of inspiring.
A few offices down from the senator’s, a familiar voice called from behind the family.
Douglas turned around, already certain of who had spoken. “John, how are you doing?” Douglas asked as he reached out to shake the man’s hand.
“Doing well, Douglas. Doing well,” the older gentleman replied.
“John, have you met my wife, Meg?” Douglas asked, going straight into introductions. “Meg, this is Senator John Pierce of Arizona.”
Meg let go of Emlyn’s hand to shake the elder senator’s. “How do you do?” Meg politely replied.
While her parents chatted with the senator, Emlyn seized the opportunity to wander down the hall. She recognized her dinosaur drawing hanging on a window, indicating her father’s office.
“Well, I must be going,” Senator Pierce said after a few moments. “I am late for breakfast with my grandchildren,” he said with a sense of pride. “Take care.”
As Senator Pierce walked away, Douglas reached for Emlyn’s hand, realizing she wasn’t there. “Where’d Emlyn go?”
Douglas and Meg turned to see their daughter pushing his office door open.
“Again?” Douglas said as he rolled his eyes. “This is the third time this month my secretary forgot to lock the door,” he said with frustration.
As the couple meandered toward the office, a sudden, high-pitched scream sent them in a full sprint the remainder of the way. With their hearts pounding and adrenaline pumping, the fearful parents shot through the door to see their daughter’s hand clamped by a strange metal object sitting on the desk. Not too dissimilar from a bear trap, but without the teeth and much smaller. Emlyn cried in pain.
Confusion zoomed through the senator’s mind as he ran across the room to his desk. What was this device and why was it in his office? His first priority, however, was to rescue his daughter’s fragile hand from the jaws of this contraption.
As he got behind the desk he saw lights, wires, and a display that read 14:27, which was counting down. Just beneath that was a small block of compound wrapped in electrical tape. Having fought in the first gulf war, this wasn’t Douglas’s first encounter with an explosive device. His jaw dropped open and his eyes widened; his face painted with horror.
“What is it, Douglas?” Meg, near hysterics, asked her husband from across the room.
The lack of response from Douglas caused Meg to rush over to the desk with her hands over her mouth.
“No! Stop!” Douglas shouted as he motioned her to stop. “Don’t move.”
Meg stopped dead in her tracks; tears began to stream down her face.
A small box, about twice the size of the bomb and filled with Styrofoam peanuts sat to the right of the device. Seeing the box, the senator then realized that they had just interrupted an assassination attempt. That’s when he noticed something move across the room.
A man jumped out from behind a large filing cabinet and darted to the door. Meg screamed in terror when she saw the intruder.
Douglas’s instincts took control of his body, reacting faster than his mind could process everything. Carefully but also swiftly, he stepped away from his daughter and the device and moved towards the door. He stopped as he passed his wife, “Call the police, and don’t let her move.”
“What are you doing?” she practically demanded.
“Just do it!” Douglas said as he left the room.
Moving quickly, the senator made his way down the empty hallways in pursuit of the bomber. Though the assailant had a head start, he was a stockier man; Douglas guessed that he wasn’t too fast on his feet.
Douglas rounded the corner of the hallway that led into the rotunda; the perpetrator was now in sight. The senator was closing the distance between the two. He had no idea what he was going to do when he actually captured the man, so he just focused on apprehending him first.
The ideal traction from the hallway carpet abruptly changed to smooth marble as the two entered the rotunda. Douglas was trailing about thirty feet when the man spun around, brandishing a pistol. As Douglas watched the man raise his arm, pistol in hand, his feet planted into the ground and stopped moving. The combination of slick soled shoes and marble floor made Douglas’s feet slide out from beneath him, creating a sound that moments ago would have amused Emlyn. Just as the senator began to fall to the ground the gunman fired two rounds. The first missed the senator entirely; the second struck him in the shoulder.
Douglas smacked into the ground hard, but maintained his focused on the bomber. Dazed and wounded, he watched the man make his way across the rest of the rotunda when a guard busted through a door.
The gunman quickly shifted his focus to the guard, but, by that time, the guard had already fired three times. All three rounds hit center mass, just as the guard was trained to do.
“Noooooo!” Douglas shouted as he pushed himself up off the cold floor, paying little attention to the throbbing pains coming from his shoulder. He quickly ran over to the bloodied man.
The guard, confused and scared, tried to remain professional. “Senator Roberts, are you okay, sir?”
Douglas ignored the question as he towered over the gunman. The man was alive, but fading fast; blood had already started to pool around his body.
“How do I disarm the bomb?” Douglas demanded. The security guard’s posture stiffened when the words left the senator’s mouth.
The man laughed, almost menacingly. “No.”
Douglas repeated his demand.
“You don’t worry about bomb,” the man said with broken English; his voice deep and thick with a Russian accent. He laughed again and closed his eyes.
Douglas placed his foot on the man’s chest and firmly pressed down. The dying Russian groaned in pain. “Tell me now!” Douglas shouted, but the groans had stopped.
Douglas backed away from the corpse; he placed his hands on top of his head and stared at the lifeless body of the only man that could save his daughter.
In the distance, Douglas could hear the faint sound of approaching police cars. He ran back to his office where two guards were now present with his family. As Douglas came through the door Meg began to cry. Tears brought on by the sight of her bloodied husband standing alone.
Douglas looked down at the timer; it now read 2:54. “Meg, you need to get out of the building, now.”
“No, Douglas, I am not leaving!” she fired back.
Douglas walked over to his wife and kissed her on the forehead, momentarily forgetting about the chaos that surrounded them. He stared deep into her eyes. “Megan, I love you. Go, please.”
Before she could argue further, Douglas told the security guards to take her outside. The guards each grabbed on to an arm and escorted the crying woman over to the door where they stopped for a moment.
“Sir?” one of the guards said.
Douglas looked at his daughter, her arm stuck to an explosive. “I’m staying.”
Meg’s heavy sobs intensified, making breathing more difficult. After a moment, she passed out. Probably for the best, Douglas thought.
Douglas embraced his daughter and watched the display hit 1:00.
Emlyn, still oblivious to the grave situation, asked “Daddy, when I get the booboo fixed can we go out for ice cream?”
Senator Douglas Roberts could no longer fight the emotions and began to cry. He felt terrible for not being strong for his daughter when she needed him most and quickly regained his composure.
“What’s wrong daddy? Why are you crying?” the little girl asked.
Douglas rubbed his eyes. “Nothing sweetheart, everything’s fine,” he lied.
He kissed the top of her head and saw the timer hit 15 seconds. He closed his eyes and began to pray; he couldn’t look at the timer any longer. After the senator had guessed about 12 seconds had passed, his body tightened.
“It’s all done, daddy,” Emlyn said.
Douglas opened his eyes; the display read 00:00.
The senator was overcome with an unexplainable feeling, as if he somehow played a game of chicken with death, and death flinched first. It was just then he heard the sound of boots marching down the hallway.
Four SWAT officers came through the door and immediately cleared the room for the bomb squad to enter.
“What took you guys so long?” Douglas impatiently asked.
“Sir, three other bombs just like this were found at the Smithsonian, the subway, and the Department of Treasury. It’s complete insanity out on the streets. Every cop, FBI, CIA, and Secret Service agent in DC is over here,” the SWAT element leader responded.
“Are we being attacked?” the senator asked.
“It looks that way, sir.”
A man from the bomb squad got into place to free Emlyn from the clasp. “Sir we need you to step out now, let the experts take it from here, she will be fine,” the bomb technician said.
Douglas released his grip around his daughter and began to walk across the room. Before he reached the door the radios went off. “This is Bravo 4, negative detonation at the Smithsonian. It’s a dud. Over.”
Two more similar reports about the subway and Department of Treasury immediately followed. No bombs had been detonated.
No more than five seconds later the bomb technician announced “Uhm, this isn’t an explosive.”
The senator, along with the rest of the officers standing near the door, was speechless.
“It feels almost like,” the man paused for a moment, trying to think of a suitable comparison. “modeling clay.”
None of this made any sense.
“Lincoln One this is dispatch,” the radio interrupted the confused silence.
The element leader pulled the radio to his mouth. “Dispatch, Lincoln One, go,”
“Silent alarms have been tripped at the State Department Federal Credit Union, apparent robbery in progress. Over,” the radio reported.
The element leader looked up at another officer. “That’s all the way over on 3rd; it’ll take us at least 25 minutes to get over there with that mess outside.”
It all became clear at that moment what had just happened. The police had taken the bait; hook, line, and sinker.
Cause & Effect
“Harris, I’m telling you, I won’t do it. I will not allow the immigration enforcement act to be appealed. I know you think that I’ll change my vote so that you’ll cast your vote in approval of my committee oversight bill that’s being sent to the floor next month, but I won’t.” Senator Douglas Roberts was tired of having this same conversation with fellow Senator Adam Harris. This was not a conversation that should have even happened with his wife, Meg, by his side, and his daughter Emlyn staring up at them both with wide eyes. He was just stopping by to drop off paperwork in his office in the Russell Building, when he saw Harris standing by the open door to his suite.
“Doug, there has to be a way for us to compromise. You want your bill passed; the bill you wrote and have been trying to get to the floor for months now. This is how to get it done!” Adam Harris had been a Senator for eleven years now. His seat was coming up for re-election soon, and his campaign was not going to be stalled by this man who was had only been seated for two years and was still wet behind the ears. He glanced past Roberts down the hall. “We need to talk about this in the morning. Put me on your schedule.”
Roberts was about to protest the need for a conference regarding a subject he had no intention of budging on, when a shrill scream cut through the air. He looked through the open doorway to his secretary’s office, where the sound had come from, and saw nothing.
“Where’s Emlyn?” he wife demanded. He pushed Harris aside and strode through the open doorway. His daughter was only three, but she knew better than to play in daddy’s office. If she’d gotten into something, there would be punishment. As he walked past the Mary’s desk, his secretary who was usually still in the office at this time, and opened to privacy door to his office, he was scarcely aware of someone making their way along the wall, heading towards the hallway. He didn’t see Emlyn at first and thought she might be playing under his desk, when another scream drew his attention to the hearth of the fireplace. No flames licked over the wood that lay cold and charred from yesterday’s fire, so at first he was relieved that she had not been burned.
Until he saw what made her scream. The skin between her thumb and forefinger on her right hand was pinched in a hinge. A hinge that was attached to a small black box with a blinking green light and bright red numbers. Numbers that, as he watched with horror, were steadily marching backwards. 9:38 and counting down. Meg, who had been following close behind, saw what had caught his attention and screamed, even louder than her daughter who was now whimpering. Suddenly, Emlyn shook her hand, trying to get the bad thing that had bitten her off of her hand. Nothing happened, so she shook harder.
Rooted to the spot where he stood, Douglas held his breath as the contraption flew off of her hand and bounced off of the ground. It rocked slightly then stilled, the numbers still decreasing. Meg flew past him and grabbed Emlyn, swinging her up into her arms as she started to back away, back towards her husband. Loud voices filled the room as security guards, who had been alerted to the commotion, rushed the room. Strong hands gripped his upper arms and pulled him back out of the office suite and into the hallway. He noticed that his wife was being forced down the hallway as well, away from the office door. Emlyn was crying now, her hand by her mouth, bright with blood.
Pulling himself together, he noticed a dark man standing against the wall, being held there firmly by a guard who demanded, “How do you disable it?”
The man, whom he recognized as Caliph, from the cleaning service, looked around wildly, his eyes rolling around frantically.
“Wait!” he yelled at the guard. “It’s not him!” He explained quickly who Caliph was as the guard looked on doubtfully. “I’ll stake our lives on it,” he declared. “It’s not him.”
“It’s true,” Caliph exclaimed. “I was emptying the trash and saw the box. I was coming to tell you!”
Douglas raked his hands through his hair and pulled back from the guard who was trying to shove him down the hall. The sounds of other guards rapidly speaking into their radios were echoing in his head, and he shook it, trying to clear his mind.
“We have to evacuate!” the guard yelled. “Move, now!” Meg and Emlyn were already running with an escort towards the north stairwell.
He turned as he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He saw Harris backing away. Backing away from the guards, away from the stairwell. He caught Roberts looking at him and stopped, but it was too late.
“You,” Roberts said softly, shocked.
“What are you talking about? Have you lost your mind? We have to get out here!” Harris shouted.
Roberts moved fast, grabbing him by the lapels of his suit. “Why? Was the vote that damned important?” He forgot for a moment the critical timing they were in and stared into the other man’s eyes. He saw the anger banked there, and underneath, the fear. But not fear of the bomb. Fear of being caught. He didn’t know how he knew the difference, but his gut twisted around it and clenched tight.
“Bastard,” Harris hissed. “I only wanted to destroy your work.”
This was insane. How had he not recognized that there was something truly wrong with Harris? He knew he’d had a rough time the past couple of years: a divorce, losing his kids, but this? Douglas couldn’t believe that Harris would go this far.
Harris shoved hard against Robert’s chest and broke down the hallway at a dead run. Roberts could hear the guard’s shouting, but all he could think of was how this man had nearly destroyed his family. He started running after him, his feet pounding against the floor as he sought to catch up to the man who had caused all of this. Forgotten was the threat that still lingered on the Aubusson rug in his office.
Harris ran to the southwest entrance stairwell, and Roberts thought he was headed to the rotunda that was prominently supported by eighteen Corinthian columns and marble floors and led to the Caucus room. But Harris leapt down the stairs in bounds and continued his downward escape. He was headed for the tunnels, Roberts realized. The tunnels that led to the Capitol building. They were installed in the early 1900’s so that the Senators could make their multiple daily trips to the Capitol with ease, but now they were another outlet for Harris to get away. Aside from the tracks that the open-car trolleys ran on, the tunnels also led to several other buildings in the vicinity. Those tunnels were not used as they were earlier in the previous century, but they still existed and had never been closed off. If Harris made it into one of the offshoot tunnels, the chances of catching him were slim.
Harris reached the platform of the one of the southbound trolley and saw by the clock on the wall that he was in luck. The trolley that ran to the Capitol building ran every ten minutes. From the time on the clock, it appeared that he had five minutes to make it into the tunnel, and from there into a side entrance he knew lay a hundred yards down the track. More than enough time. Since the catenary, or messenger, wires running the trolleys were off of the ground suspended above him in the aluminum duct work between the electrical towers, he knew he didn’t have to worry about the third rail on the ground that most subways had.
He was halfway down the loading platform when he stumbled, the toe of his Gucci loafer catching in the uneven seam of the flooring. Being below the main floors, the maintenance work done down here was not as productive as on the parts of the building often viewed by the public.
He was still scrambling to regain his balance, when Roberts caught him about the waist and they both went down. Roberts landed roughly on top of him and brought his knee up sharply in between the other man’s legs. This man had almost killed Emlyn, there would be no niceties here. As Harris doubled over on the floor, Roberts reared back and flipped Harris over onto his back. He drew back his fist and smashed it into his jaw, following with a sharp jab to his soft midsection.
Harris exhaled loudly and then brought both fists up to hammer them into Roberts’ temples. Stunned momentarily, Roberts was knocked to the side as Harris rolled and came to his feet. He stood slowly and the two men stared at each other, breathing heavily. Harris knew if he attempted to make it into the tunnel, Roberts would be on his heels.
Shouts came from the stairwell, and the two guards who had been following Roberts came down onto the platform. Harris looked on, frustrated, as the guards split and began to circle around him. This was it, he was done. His career was finished, he knew. But he had known that in the instant he had started running. But now, the chances of him making it out of here were getting slimmer as each moment passed. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
Then the ground rumbled beneath his feet and his eyes flew open. He could hear the explosion from above ripping through the walls. The guards looked at each other and shook their heads. Nothing to be done about it now. They would have to deal with the aftermath, and the casualties, soon enough. Their problem was here, directly in front of them.
The explosion had distracted Roberts and the guards long enough for him to take action. As their heads swung back to his direction, they saw him slide something out of his pants pocket. Roberts recognized the material the slim box was constructed of as being the same as the box in his office.
His eyes flew up and met Harris’ gaze. He watched as Harris smiled and thumbed a button that was partially embedded in the box’s cover. There was a bright flash of white, and then nothing.
* * *
Chaos erupted on the lawn in front of the Russell Building. Senators, secretaries, and office workers who had come running out of the building moments prior were rocked by the explosion that came from the third floor. Some fell as they ran and tried to pull themselves to their feet as the shock of the blast stunned them. They turned and stared back at the building they worked in nearly every day. Stared in silence at the building that was built over a hundred years ago to emulate the design of the Louvre in Paris.
Meg held Emlyn in her arms, surrounded by men in uniforms who kept asking her the same questions. Couldn’t they see she was no more aware of what was going on than they were? Her husband was still in there. In the confusion, she had lost sight of him and now she did not know if he had gotten out or not.
Then, even as she took a slight step forward, a second blast rocked the air. Much fainter than the first, but there was no denying what it was. She looked at the guard’s faces and did not need to be told. The shock on their faces said it all. She knew, and started to scream.