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Authors: Randy Wayne White

Terror in D.C.

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Terror in D.C.

Randy Wayne White writing as Carl Ramm

one

At 4
A.M.
three members of a terrorist organization planted bombs beneath the bedroom window and the kitchen window of Chester A. Rutledge's split-level home in Bethesda, Maryland.

It was a Friday morning, a school day, and at 6:30
A.M.
Rutledge's sixteen-year-old son, Luke, was the first to awaken. He yawned, threw back the covers, and headed immediately for the bathroom in the hope of getting there before his thirteen-year-old sister, Mary Ann, his eleven-year-old sister, Lisa, and his four-year-old brother, Jeffery, whom everyone called J.R.

Mrs. Betty Rutledge was the next to awaken. As she passed the bathroom, she smiled sleepily at her oldest son and blew him a kiss. She wore a pale gray robe that made her blond hair look flaxen and her blue eyes glow.

“Ham or bacon, Luke?” she asked him.

“Both?”

His mother laughed. “Sure, why not. And what about the eggs?”

“Poached. Four of them.”

“My little boy is growing up.”

Luke Rutledge inspected his face for acne in the mirror. “I wish I could make Dad believe that.”

“Oh, he believes it. He may be trying to postpone it a little, but he believes it. And, whether you think so or not, dear, your father only wants what's best for you.”

The boy turned away from the mirror and looked carefully at his mother. “I guess I was out of line last night, huh? I should never have yelled at Dad like that. I should never have said those things. It's just that those three idiots in the Lincoln who hit us—”

“Everyone says things they don't mean when they're mad,” his mother interrupted, not wishing to hear the story again.

“But I've never talked to him like that before. I'm kind of surprised he … he didn't smack me or something. Now I sorta wish he had.”

His mother went to him and patted his head down onto her shoulder. “When you love someone, Luke, dear, words can hurt a lot worse than a slap.”

“What I said was that bad?”

The boy's mother continued to pat his head. “I think what you said hurt him more deeply than you know—or you would never have said it. You and your father are a lot alike, Luke. Neither of you show much emotion, and that just makes it harder on both of you. But don't worry, dear—if you feel badly about it, just tell him when he gets up. Your father will understand.… He cares for you so. I'm sure he'll forgive you.”

The boy's eyes were suddenly glassy. “You really think so?”

Betty Rutledge was sure of it because she and her husband had stayed up late worrying over the argument. Her husband's feelings
had
been badly hurt, but he wanted nothing so much as to regain his son's respect and affection. She did not tell her son that. Instead, she said, “I think you'll both feel much better if you have a good talk. Okay?”

“Yeah, Mom, sure. And thanks.”

Her son was whistling as she walked through the dusky halls to the kitchen. She plugged in the automatic coffee maker, put a skillet on for the poached eggs, and began to make toast. Upstairs, she could hear the clump and giggle of her daughters waking up, and soon, she knew, she would hear the familiar sounds of toilets flushing, showers purling, hair dryers whining as her daughters went through their preschool routine.

Little J.R., hair mussed with sleep, thumb in his mouth, would be the last to come down, dragging his blanket behind.

This was Betty Rutledge's favorite time of day. She was alone with her thoughts, but she still had her family around her, warm and loving, with their troubles, their small triumphs. It was in the morning that the four kids and her husband, Chester, seemed exclusively hers; in the morning before school or sports or the office took them away into the world.

She poured herself a cup of coffee and began to prepare breakfast.

At 6:58
A.M.
Luke came clomping into the kitchen. He piled bacon on top of a piece of toast and jammed half of it in his mouth.

His mother asked, “Do you have practice tonight?”

“Um-huh.”

“It's Kevin's mother's turn to drive, isn't it?”

“Yup.” He took another bite. “Wheremyeggs?”

“What? Was I supposed to understand that?”

The boy swallowed. “Where are my eggs?”

“They'll be done in about two minutes. Did you talk to your father?”

“He isn't out of bed yet. I guess he's sleeping in.”

“Maybe you'll have to wait until after school to see him.”

“Naw, I'd rather be late for class. I don't mind. I'm kind of anxious to talk to him. It's important.”

Betty Rutledge remembered that it was after two when her husband finally shut off the bedroom light. She nodded her consent. “Then why don't you go outside and get his paper for him? The boy missed the sidewalk entirely this morning. I can see it lying out in the street.”

“The kid's got no arm. When I had that route, I dented doors.”

“And broke windows. Don't remind me. I remember the calls.”

Laughing, Luke Rutledge walked through the dark living room and out the front door. It was a cool May morning, cherry-blossom time in Bethesda and nearby Washington, D.C. The sky was orange above the suburban houses across the street, and a cusp of moon tilted low in the west. The streetlights were still on.

The boy sidled into the street and picked up
The Washington Post
. He pulled it out of its tubular plastic bag and unfolded it. The lead story on the front page was about terrorists. They had been setting off bombs in Washington every week for the past six weeks. The terrorists seemed to bomb at random, striking civilian homes late at night or early in the morning. So far, six families had been murdered.

“Officials Fear Resumption of Bombings” was the headline.

Luke Rutledge had read about the bombings before, so he flipped through the first two sections to the sports page. He wanted to see how the Orioles were doing. Then for some reason, he found his eyes drawn to the house. His father stood at his bedroom window looking out at him. He wore no shirt and the hair on the broad chest was grayer than the thin hair on his head. Luke felt his face flush, embarrassed. But then his father's hand lifted in a tentative wave and he smiled a shy, boyish smile.

Suddenly feeling much better, Luke waved and smiled in return. The boy took a step toward the house, but the inside part of the paper fell onto the asphalt. He stooped to pick it up … and the world suddenly went white. His ears roared, his face burned, and there was a strange sensation of flying.

Then he was on his feet, walking in a daze. Someone stood beside him, pulling at his arm. It took Luke a long moment to recognize the man—Mr. Di Ornado, a neighbor from across the street. Mr. Di Ornado seemed to be shouting at him, but Luke could hear nothing because of the ringing in his ears. He noticed without emotion that several of the neighboring houses seemed to be on fire. But where was his house?

Luke jerked his arm away from Mr. Di Ornado and ran down the sidewalk toward a junkyard of smoldering bricks and lumber and burning furniture in the lawn where his home had once been.

His hands began to pull frantically at the debris as if they were being operated by a mind other than his own. This is weird, he thought. I'm looking through a trash pile, and I don't even know what I'm looking for. I'd better hurry, or I'll be late for school.

Then he saw something he recognized. The object was tubular, metallic, a scorched-blue. He pulled it out and looked at it blankly. It was a bicycle frame.

Somebody wrecked my ten-speed, he thought. Why would they do that?

Then he saw something else: a tiny hand attached to a smoldering pile of something that was wrapped in his little brother's Scooby-Doo pajamas. Several feet beyond, alone on a slab of board, his father's face peered at him quizzically. It was an odd expression, and Luke stared back at the face. Why aren't you smiling? he wondered. We're friends again, aren't we?

For long seconds, Luke stood frozen.

Then he dropped the bicycle frame, recoiling. He took a slow step back, then another.
“Daddy?”
he whispered hoarsely.
“Daddy!”

Then he was running wildly, blindly down the street, swinging at the neighbors in their bedclothes as they tried to stop him.

During the seventeen months Luke Rutledge was to spend in George Washington University Hospital psychiatric center, he would speak no other word.…

At 7:15
A.M.
three students stepped from their dormitory out onto the campus of American University. The traffic on Nebraska Avenue and Foxhall Road was bumper-to-bumper. To the southwest the Washington Monument was a pale funerary beneath the blue May haze. From the distance, sirens screamed.

The three students heard the sirens and paused to listen. One by one, they smiled and nudged each other.

“Aiee! It seems our mission was a success, brothers,” said the leader, Mosul Aski. He looked at his expensive watch. “And right on time too.”

“Should we be surprised? Once again, your plan was flawless, Mosul. We may have helped deliver the bombs, but it is you who deserves the praise! You are proving yourself an able leader to our elders in the homeland.”

“Yes,” laughed the third student, “but when the day comes for you to take your rightful seat as master of our people, do not forget your two old friends. Remember how I was injured in the service of the Motherland!”

The other two laughed with him. Because their leader, Mosul Aski, feared that the front and rear entrances of the dorm might be under surveillance, they had reentered the building early that morning by a window the American students used to sneak in women. Karaj, who was very fat, had gotten stuck in the window and had scraped his belly while being pulled through.

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