Wednesday, August 29, 2012
An Act of Valor
Jeff Wilcott had lost track of the funerals he'd been to over the years. Dozens. Hundreds, maybe. More than any fifty-three-year-old man should ever see. But funerals, like bad chicken dinners, were something that politicians endured. They should have made it easier. By volume alone, they should have prepared him.
He leaned with his elbows on the big dark desk, staring at the photograph. Jeffrey, the week after graduation, smiling back. Shotgun tucked into the crook of his arm, that damn Astros cap tipped back on his head with Daddy's thick hair bushing out beneath it. Senatorial hair, silver, just like Jeff's own had been since he'd been his boy's age. Jeffrey, smiling at the camera as if he'd live forever.
But, of course, he hadn't.
The whole thing had been caught on someone's iPhone. Jeff had made the police show him the original, had watched the parts the network hadn't broadcast. Over and over, until he knew every breath of it.
Outside his office door, his team worked in near-silence. Voices murmured. Phones burred faintly, were quietly answered by staffers. Since he'd come in from burying his son they'd handled him with kid gloves, but they all wanted him to go home. They couldn't work with him here, not like this.
But where else was he supposed to go?
The red light on his phone was blinking at him. Jeff laid his finger across the light, pushed.
Janet sounded apologetic. "Senator, Kile Wilson for you?"
Kile was a good man with good intentions, but Jeff had just about had his fill of talking for the day. Still, it was Kile. Jeff sighed, braced himself. "Put him through."
"Jeff." Kile's voice through the speakerphone was subdued. "This is a terrible day."
"Your boy is a god-damned hero, though."
Jeff's stare stayed locked on Jeffrey's smile, but he was seeing the video instead. The kid in the grocery store, DeWayne Wiseman. So hopped up on meth that his eyes bulged, waving the black Glock like a toy. And Jeffrey, stepping in front of the pregnant woman at the register, sliding into a shooter's stance with the Colt extended two-handed before him. In his eyes, Jeff had seen nothing but confidence; in his voice, he'd heard nothing but command. Put the gun down. No one needs to get hurt here.
Jeffrey had looked so confused when the Wiseman boy had shot him.
Jeff swabbed at his eyes with a monogrammed handkerchief. United States Senate, in blue cursive stitching. His initials, in silver above.
"Damn right," Kile said. "Don't you doubt it for a second."
"He never expected to actually get shot," Jeff said. "I could see it. On the video. He thought it was going to end like the movies. Are you still a hero if you think you can't be killed?"
Kile said nothing for a moment, then gulped an audible breath. "Hey, listen, Jeff. I was talking to Alvin in the House this morning. We want to do something for your boy. The NAMT, I mean."
"All right." A scholarship fund wasn't going to bring Jeffrey back, but it was a generous gesture. One he'd have to remember come the next floor vote, but still.
"Alvin's bringing up a motion today," Wilson said. "HR 4197. Jeffrey's all over the news right now, and we'll make sure some good comes out of this terrible loss."
The pregnant woman's name was Cathy Collins. She and her husband had introduced herself at the funeral. Told him they were naming their son Jeffrey. He'd nearly cried all over her black dress. "What's that?"
A touch of eagerness crept into Kile's voice. "We're going to roll back the ban on offensive magic. We'll call it the Jeffrey Wilcott Protect Our Families Act. And I have to tell you, the visibility won't hurt at all when you declare--"
Jeff's stomach roiled. "Kile, I don't--"
"No, listen, Jeff. I hear what you're saying, it's too soon. But I'm not joking here. We'll never have a better chance."
"I gotta go, Kile."
"An armed nation is peaceful nation, Jeff, you know--"
"I gotta go." Jeff pressed the button. Kile's voice went away.
He bent forward and threw up into the wastebasket.
The Wiseman kid's Glock was legal. Registered to his brother, a lawyer down in Dallas. He'd lost it taking off after firing the shot that killed Jeffrey. If he'd had a rod stocked up with spellware, Cathy Collins would be dead right now, too.
Jeff wiped his mouth with the handkerchief and tossed it on the desk. Conversation stopped when he opened the door. Eyes turned away.
"I'm going out," he announced.
Janet's hands were already moving toward the phone. "I'll call down for your car, Senator."
He waved her off, took his hat from the coatstand by the front door. "I'll walk. I need to clear my head."
So he walked. Down Colfax and past the Ballet, losing himself in the crowd and in the confusion in Jeffrey's eyes.
He found himself in front of a Hair Barn.
The name tag on the kid at the counter read Siobhan. Jeff declined to give his number for the computer, but he told her his name. She didn't recognize it. He was fine with that.
"What are we doing today?" Siobhan asked. She led him to her station, settled him into the seat, busied herself arranging tools.
Jeff studied his reflection in the mirror. The silver mane. Presidential hair, he'd joked with Martha, before he'd lost her.
"I'll tell you what, Siobhan," he said. Pronouncing it Shiv-on, because old habits died hard and a good politician always made the effort to say the name right. "Let's use the clippers this time."
"Are you sure?" She settled a black cape around him.
Jeff checked the mirror again. Nodded. "Yes ma'am, I am."
He let slip the breath he'd been holding since the reporters had beaten the police to his offfice.
"I do believe that it's time for a change."
Another Chuck Wendig challenge piece. Good blog, his. http://terribleminds.com
This piece, I believe, is set in the world of my in-first-draft-process novel, Five Against the Night: Remember. Which will, if the fates are kind and the ideas keep coming, be a series. But first the first book :).
Comments, good or ill, are always welcome.