Richard had ordered Shawn to take some time off, but his return to the field had piled up the paperwork. Shawn sat at his desk in the cold office reviewing the president's updated travel itinerary for the next couple months. His trip to Bosnia had been cancelled, which freed up a lot of resources. But the president would now be touring middle schools in five states to discuss bullying. One high-risk event or five lower-risk events? Seemed about the same amount of paperwork.
Shawn pulled up a web browser that Brandon had recently taught him how to use and, like a gambler pulling the slot at a casino, pressed refresh. Nothing. There hadn't been any reports of new terrorist plots for a few months. He was certain that would change soon, but after such a high-profile takedown, most of the cockroaches had gone into hiding.
Brandon walked up to his boss's desk with a cup of coffee in each hand. He placed one on his desk and took a sip from the other, but it burned his mouth and he jerked the cup away enough to spill on his hand. Shawn handed him a tissue.
"So what's next?" asked Brandon.
Shawn sighed. "Go home, Brandon. Go get yourself a wife. You won't survive here long if you don't find balance."
Brandon threw the tissue away.
"Do you ever think of getting married again?" asked Brandon.
Shawn gave Brandon his best annoyed look.
"See you on Monday," said Brandon.
As the last of the Secret Service workers left for the night, the cleaning crew came in and started vacuuming the floors. Shawn pressed refresh one last time, then walked away from his desk.
But he wasn't ready to go home, yet. His five=minute commute turned into a half-hour meander around Washington DC's world-famous landmarks. He found it funny how you could live in a city for so long and avoid the very things people drove thousands of miles to see.
He drove by the Lincoln Memorial, but barely glanced at it. He turned onto Division Ave., but his mind was elsewhere. He kept turning left and right at random. There wasn't any traffic, and as he sat at a red light, he wondered why not just go? Who would notice? He could see clearly for blocks in either direction that nobody was coming. It would be so easy to shift his foot from the brake to the gas and just go.
The light turned green, but Shawn still didn't move. He sat there as the light turned yellow and red again. He had a feeling that something had brought him to this spot. This very location. Something had pulled him unconsciously, but with a powerful and undeniable force. He opened the car door and stepped out onto the street. Looking around, he noticed recently poured cement on the sidewalk. He saw a brick building and a city garden overflowing with winter kale and spring vegetables. Could this be it? Was this where the train crashed through our tent?
The day flashed back at him. The landscape changing under his feet. The sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, knowing he had been right and not being able to stop it. The train cutting through streets and buildings like butter. And yet now it had all come back together again. If it wasn't for the newly poured sidewalk, it would be hard to tell that anything happened here.
On the gate to the community garden was a plaque. Shawn walked up to get a better look. A taxi came up behind his car, and he was about to turn around, but the taxi just pulled around and sped off. He got to the heavy metal gate and read the plaque silently.
"A child said What is the grass?
Fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child?
I do not know what it is
any more than he."
― Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"
"You would have hated that," said Shawn out loud. "You never did like poetry."
Shawn tried to open the gate, but it was locked. He considered jumping over the gate, but he was too old for that.
"I miss you, Norah. Thanks for bringing me here tonight. You always know just what I need. And just when I need it."
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...