He woke up in a cold sweat. Abigail, where did Abigail go? He had not been able to sleep through the night since the day of the attack. Shawn had tried over-the-counter and prescription pills, but they took his edge off during the daytime and he needed that edge. So he stopped.
He woke at 5:43 a.m. and got out of bed at 5:44 a.m. His tiny one-bedroom apartment was in disarray. It looked like there had been a weekend frat party and smelled like dirty socks. The refrigerator was empty except for half a carton of spoiled milk and a couple eggs. At 6:12 a.m. he ate a scrambled egg. He then took a fifteen-minute cold shower. He put on his navy suit. As he passed the picture of his wife Norah, his fingers grazed over the top of the frame. He grabbed the keys sitting on the nightstand next to the photo and got into his old black Jaguar.
Five minutes into the drive, he passed the dark glass office building on his right. It had been a particularly wet winter in Washington DC and now that the tourist season was winding down, the streets were clearing up. As he approached the National Mall, it was quiet and still. Most of the Mall didn't open for another hour.
The rains had helped wash the streets of the physical scars from the devastating events just a month earlier, but the psychological scars remained. The workers had just started laying bricks for the old brewery after having rebuilt much of the interior. The community garden remained untouched since planting season had long since passed.
Shawn pulled up to the spot where the Secret Service tent had been. He parked his car and sat there silently. After a few long minutes, he got out of the car and stepped onto the freshly paved street. You could still smell the asphalt and the rain made the new ground feel tacky.
"The president's driver is awaiting our signal." He could hear Abigail's voice like she was right in front of him.
"Tell the driver to proceed," he remembered saying as the ground around the operations tent began to shake. Most of the dead had been accounted for, but they never found the remains of Abigail Onassis. The train had come in full force through Shawn's tent and had proceeded to run into another building before coming to a halt.
Shawn's phone rang loudly in his pocket.
"Boss, where are you?" Brandon sounded concerned.
"I'll be right in. Have you heard anything new yet?"
"Yes, I just tracked down a rumor about the ashcat, Jared Wilson Farthing. Jared's an ex-con and apparently their inside man. He broke the neck of the conductor minutes after the train left the station and then installed a remote override mechanism that disabled the safety mechanisms in place, before jumping off the train."
"So where is he now?"
"In the wind. The FBI has put him on the ten most wanted list, but he skipped town before we knew to stop him."
"I want to know everything there is to know about Jared Farthing. Have a file on my desk when I get there."
Shawn put the phone back in his pocket and got back in the car.
* * *
As he came out of the elevator, the briskness of the cold air cleared Shawn's mind. He spotted Brandon down the hall carrying papers in one hand and a brace in the other. Brandon had been out of the way of the train, but a computer-turned-projectile had shattered his left arm when the train came through the tent.
"Brandon, is the profile done?"
"Oh." He turned to see Shawn. "Yes, boss. Jared Wilson Farthing. Twenty-five-year-old orphan who was in and out of foster homes until he found his way to Columbia Heights and joined the MS-13 gang when he was thirteen. He was in jail for armed robbery when he was sixteen and was released two years ago. Only one living relative, a great aunt living in California, but he has been in DC all of his life. Think this is gang related?"
"Absolutely not. This was a carefully planned and well-executed attack. Who are his known associates?"
"All I could find were gangbangers. Another man was spotted limping away from the train around the time of the hijacking, but nobody stopped him and we only have a vague description."
"Okay, well check hospitals for all recent leg injuries. And let's start following the money. Look into Jared's bank records. How's your arm?"
"It's okay, mostly just hurts at night and during storms. Thanks for asking. How are you? Where were you this morning?"
"I'm fine. Go pull the financials on Jared and his aunt."
Shawn sat at his desk, opened the file and began paging through the papers like Ebenezer Scrooge counting his money. Lost in his own world, Shawn didn't notice as Senior Director Richard Curtis walked up to his desk. Richard was a tall and stocky man with deep-set wrinkles and a smooth bald head.
Richard knocked on Shawn's desk. "Shawn, how are you?"
"Sir, I didn't know you were here today." Shawn stood up at his desk and started pulling his papers together, trying to neaten up his desk. Though technically Shawn's boss, Richard was so busy and traveled so much that Shawn only saw him a few times a year in person. Usually at formal events. Never in the office. Richard could usually be found on or near Air Force One.
"Yes, the president wanted me to check on you. How is the concussion healing?"
"I'm fine, sir. You didn't need to come by just to check on me."
"I also came to give you some advice. Don't meddle in the investigation that the joint task force is running. This is the largest terrorist attack since 9/11 and the president is in a very precarious position with public opinion right now. We need this investigation to run its course. Can you play ball?"
"With all due respect, this attack goes much deeper than the president's polling numbers. People were hurt. My own people died. And this could have been prevented if others had listened to me in the first place."
"We did listen to you, Shawn. Maybe not enough, but that's water under the bridge now. It's out of our hands. I need you to step away. This needs to be a clean investigation."
Richard's presence grew more and more imposing.
"The FBI has no idea what they're doing. I have been onto this guy for a year now. Do you know how many times they've asked me to help in the investigation? Zero. None. One measly Senate interview. Not a single investigator has come to ask me about my research into the ashcat or the email trail."
"Shawn, they have all your reports and transcripts. I assure you they're going over every lead. They will interview you soon if and when they need to. I just need your word that you won't meddle. You can't run your own investigation. I need you coordinating travel. Can you do that for me?"
"Good. I'll send the president your regards."
Richard turned away and started walking, but Shawn called over.
"Sir, one more question. Can I ask what the FBI has found so far?"
"You know I can't tell you that."
"Do they have any leads though?"
Richard shrugged. I knew it, said Shawn to himself under his breath.
"Safe travels, sir."
Richard continued to walk away. When he turned the corner, Shawn's fists slammed on the desk, pushing all the papers to the floor. Brandon came over and started to pick up the papers.
"Who was that?" Brandon asked.
"No wonder you don't like me calling you sir."
YOU ARE READING
The Term Sheet | Wattys 2016 WinnerMystery / Thriller
2016 WATTY AWARD WINNER - HQ LOVE THE TERM SHEET is a fast-paced technothriller about entrepreneurship, startups, encryption, and the delicate balance between national security and individual privacy. Its complex characters explore thought-provoking...