“West?” Edward called to the front of car, “Ring up the other Limo. Let them know Epiphany and I are going to take a stroll.”
“You’re not going to the Club?” He asked to clarify.
“Meh, we’ll get there eventually. I think we’ll enjoy the last of the Cherry-Blossom festivities first. They can join us, if they want to, of course.”
“Parking will be a bitch today.”
“Yeah, but… that’s your problem!”
Edward’s sarcastic smile was met with a wry smirk from West. “Yeah, yeah.”
West dropped them off, before ending up driving back to the club anyway. He was right about the parking. Edward and Epiphany walked hand-in-hand along the cement barrier lining the edge of the Potomac River.
“It really is beautiful,” Epiphany broke the silence, looking around as the pink and white blossoms adorning the trees surround the Jefferson Memorial.
Edward took a deep breath. “It’s truly one of the best sites this city has to offer. Pretty much the only time I ever came into town, as a tourist, I mean, back in my old life.”
Epiphany squeezed his hand. “Crazy times, huh?”
Edward laughed. “Yeah.”
“Thanks for, uh, protecting me. Back at the club, I mean.”
“Instinct,” Edward answered, somewhat thoughtlessly. “I knew you, and everyone else, would be fine. But…”
“Well, it was sweet. Unnecessary, maybe, but still sweet.”
As she kissed his cheek, his thoughts strayed back to Gretchen, and the two men he’d had in his power. Things he did not want to be thinking about right now.
“Crazy about Gretchen too, huh?”
Augh! Why did she have to start in on that?
“Um… You kind of wigged out there for a while. If you don’t mind me asking, what was going on?”
‘I DO mind you asking,’ Edward thought to himself, somewhat annoyed. “I just took the attempt on her life hard, that’s all. Too hard, maybe. But I would feel the same no matter who it had been.” A lie. “Everyone is just so important to me. That’s all.”
“So you’d have done the same if I had been shot?”
What did the smile of hers mean? Edward grimaced, hoping she wouldn’t go there. Would he torture someone for her? The thought terrified him; more so as he realized that she would probably appreciate it. He imagined standing over a ripped up corpse, slowly repairing itself to life under the power of the Tears, Epiphany standing by his side, smiling and saying, ‘Aw, that’s so sweet of you!” just as she had said moments ago. The image made him feel ill.
“No,” he started, hoping she wouldn’t sense the tension in his voice. “I’d take the bullet for you instead, remember?” Now if only he could end this line of conversation, and dodge one himself.
Epiphany gave a satisfied smile. “That’s right,” she said, kissing him again, “You’re my big strong man, who’s going to protect me, right?” Her sarcasm was palpable.
He gave a laugh. “No, honey, you don’t need protection. All the same, yes, I will probably continue to step between you and danger anytime I can.” And save us all from whatever vengeance you might reap upon someone, he added silently.
They walked a bit in silence, along the looping path leading up the Jefferson. They noticed a crowd had formed on the steps, and were curious what was going on. As they approached, they realized that most of the crowd was media. As press conferences were rare during the festival, their curiosity grew. Edward’s blood froze when he saw who was speaking.
Senator Sheldon Runyon was giving a speech; and while they had missed the first part, it was clear that this was one of the defiant, firebrand variety. They faded back and sat under a tree, out of site, but within listening distance of the speakers that amplified the Senator’s words.
“And let me be clear about this: We will NOT back down from tyranny! We will NOT wither in the face of threats! And we WILL unify against the forces that threaten to further break down the fabric of our society!”
“What, is he switching parties?” Epiphany asked, laughing.
But Edward was not amused. “Hand me the Tablet, would you?”
She fished it out of her purse.
“Because I have looked into the face of Evil! I have stared into the eyes of those who would have us continue to ignore common decency, and the Christian, family values upon which this great nation was founded!”
Epiphany snorted derisively, “Yeah, except for that whole first-amendment thing!”
Edward shushed her, staring at Runyon with daggers in his eyes.
“There are plenty of conspiracy theories swirling around about the numerous and mysterious deaths that happened on New Year’s Eve. There’s no shortage of rumors in this town, folks. There never is. And there are those who were tempted to see this as a sign; who thought that God might be sending us a message. Well, my friends, no God that I believe in would kill those who worked in his name!”
Applause from some onlookers, while Edward rolled his eyes.
“More like took his name in vain!” Epiphany blurted out, loud enough to draw some stares from the small crowd of supporters. “Have you ever even READ the bible?!”
But Edward waved his hand at her impatiently. He didn’t want to draw attention right now, he was trying to PAY it.
“No, my friends, I do not believe that for a minute. And if I were to allow myself to make any kind of celestial interpretation of those events, it would be this: Those deaths were an assault on our faith and our country by the force of evil. That’s right: They were an attack, perpetrated not by God, but by those forces which oppose him!”
A chill went up Edward’s spine at just how apt the Senator’s interpretation was. Despite Gabriel’s presence, it was Lucifer that had chosen him; Lucifer that granted him his great power.
“And so, it is indirect opposition to those forces, and with the grace of our Lord God by my side that I will re-unify and re-unite our scattered and leaderless party, so that we may REPEAL the damage done by the Godless forces currently guiding the Congress and the Administration, and OPPOSE, by any and all means at our disposal, the continued degradation of our society by these forces!”
“By God, you will not!” Edward muttered under his breath. Epiphany looked over to see the Senator’s profile page pulled up on the tablet. Edward had already typed his fate:
Sheldon Runyon will be struck by a bolt of lightning out of the clear blue sky.
And his finger hovered over the ‘Execute’ button.
“And as He has always done, God and His Word will continue to guide our paths, shining a light upon our way forward! And as God helps those who work hard to help themselves, certain precautions have been taken, so that should any unfortunate accident befall me, those responsible will be clearly implicated!”
‘So this IS meant to send me a message,’ Edward thought to himself. ‘Say, “God” again, you son of a bitch, I dare you. I double-dare you: Invoke His Name one more time!’
“The Devil has made his choice. And I believe that God has chosen ME to oppose that choice!”
‘Think again,’ thought Edward, as his finger fell to the screen.
And from a sky lacking even a single cloud, came a white hot flash, almost completely incinerating the Senator.
Gasps from the crowd, followed by chaos.
Edward still wore the same dark look on his face as he turned to Epiphany, who nodded back to him with a grim look of similar solemnity. And as they police and EMT’s and media flooded toward the podium, Edward and Epiphany calmly walked away, hand in hand.
“Experts are calling the bizarre event ‘heat-lightning,’ a rare phenomenon that normally happens in the upper atmosphere, and is practically unheard of striking humans on the ground. Witnesses at the scene…”
West shut the TV off. “Your handiwork?”
“Yes.” Edward nodded as Epiphany looked on. The three of them were alone in the High and Low.
“OK… We all knew it might come to this, but I assume you have SOME idea what he meant when he said that certain precautions had been taken, yes?”
Edward sighed. “Yes. I assume that he had written a letter of some sort and left copies of it with several people to be released upon the event of his untimely death, implicating me.”
Edward was confused. “And WHAT? West, he was stuck by a bolt of lightning! Not only in front of countless eyewitness, but on camera, in front of dozens of reporters! Who the hell is going to think that a murder accusation is anything but the insane ramblings of a man who was already acting like he was hearing voices, Joan of Arc-style!”
“Some of the politicians who know about you might believe it.”
Edward and Epiphany looked at each other and laughed. “And if they truly come to believe that it is within my power to summon bolts of lightning that should pretty much dispel any remaining opposition moving forward, no?”
West had to concede that point. “...And you had motive.”
Flashbacks of Gretchen writhing in pain, and of the gunmen flinching away from the whir of his Grandfather’s drill... He never actually saw either of those things, but his mind was showing them to him none the less. Edward pushed the images back into his subconscious. “If you’re referring to the shooting, that’s a motive that they can’t invoke without implicating themselves as well. And if there was anyone else directly involved who knew about it, either you or the Major would have found them by now, correct?”
West looked away. “Yes, we would have. And all indications are that Runyon acted alone, and told no one save the three men in the shootout of his intentions.”
Edward spread his hands, palms up, shrugging. “Well, there you go. Either this will go down as a bizarre coincidence, or if people want to invoke some kind of religious interpretation, they can assume God was actually listening, and mustn’t have liked what he heard. Anyway, his speech and its aftermath should help put the final nail in the coffin of Religion mixing with Politics, seeing as how the only people who would believe that are the very ones who think it’s a good idea in the first place.
Whatever. We’re rid of that asshole. He didn’t want to play ball so fuck’im. Where are we on everything else?”
West brought them up to speed on the progress of the Proportionate Pay Act, as well as some early indications from the State Department that they would support allowing them to meet with a delegation from South Korea, in secret, to discuss their support in re-integrating the North. They would NOT receive any military support, and a face to face meeting was still months away, but he was encouraged by the start.
Back in the Oval Office, the President was reading a letter, addressed to him by the late Senator from Louisiana, Sheldon Runyon. CIA Director Panetta and FBI Director Mueller were holding identical notes.
“Carpenter. Again.” Director Mueller muttered.
Director Panetta was perplexed. “HOW?! Bob, he was struck by a bolt of lightning! I know it pays to be a bit superstitious in this business, but come on!”
The other man sighed. “I know. But it’s hardly the first time we find ourselves saying that. New Year’s Eve? 2010 and 2011? The shooting downstairs? Now this? How many more impossible things are we going to hand-wave before we conclude that the man is obviously capable of the impossible? How much more has he been controlling, using ‘impossible’ means, that we’ve missed, simply because what we saw seemed merely unlikely?!”
“Like votes changing in Congress?” The President broke his silence. “OK, we’re done messing around here. Robert? You’re right. And the more we open our minds, the more things might become clear to us.” The President remembered his own manipulation, fully understanding now that this came by Edward’s doing. “We’re going to find out all we can about this man, and his cohorts.”
Both men started to protest, indignantly at the suggestion that their own investigations had been lacking. The President held up his hand to quiet them. “Be that as it may, there are some resources that were previously unavailable to you.” He fingered the button on the intercom on his desk. “Send General Alexander, would you?”
NSA Director, General Keith Alexander joined them.
“General, would you please bring these two men up to speed on Boundless Informant and Prism?”
“They’re tightening the noose,” Major Northville told them, before taking a long pull from his Scotch. Other than West and Epiphany, they were alone in the Club with only the lights over the bar lit up.
Epiphany and West just nodded in silence, trying to take in all of the implications of what the Major was telling them.
“The President is becoming obsessed with you.”
“We’ve noticed,” Edward answered. “Even to the extent that his public appearances have suffered. He’s barely even started campaigning!”
The Major frowned, leaning back on his bar stool. “What can I say? The Man sets his own priorities. Is there anything you can do about that?”
Edward sighed. “No, not directly. Unfortunately I used up my opportunity to influence the President the night you and I first met and I’ve been bluffing him ever since.”
The Major laughed. “Well… He’s taking you seriously now. And before long, you’re going to have more enemies than even you will be able to deal with.”
Edward thought for a moment. “How many?”
“How many people are involved in this investigation? How many have seen the files relating to it, or would have access to them?”
The Major shrugged. “Hundreds, maybe?”
“But your contact in NSA might just be able to get us a list of them, yes?”
“Southworth is situated pretty well for that, but it will take him some time. And the list may grow a little with each day that passes.”
West leaned forward. “Eddie, what are you…? You’re not going to…?”
Epiphany shifted her glace from West to Edward, a look of anticipation on her face. “No, West, I’m not going to KILL everyone just for doing their jobs. I’m not sure what I’m going to do just yet, but I still want to have options, you know?”
A brief silence as they finished their drinks and left for the night. It would be several months before any of them would see the Major again.