Jackie Turner began the circle around the Lincoln Memorial, switching her gaze from the road to the huge marble structure from time to time just to make sure nothing was going on. So far, it had been a routine patrol on the graveyard shift. Christmas was only a few days away, and the crowds on the National Mall had dwindled to the usual trickle. The tourists were at home for the season. Whatever they could scrape together in a tight economy was going for gifts to put under their trees.
She looked up again at the Doric columns shining white in the spotlights, guarding the giant figure that sat staring at the Capitol across the Capitol Mall and Reflecting Pool. The park rangers had gone home at 10:00 p.m., about three hours ago. Responsibility for the memorial had shifted to the United States Park Police at that time. Officer Turner’s duties included drive-arounds on the circle bordering the Lincoln at random intervals, with an increased emphasis—stressed by the brass at every shift-change roll call—on preventing vandalism.
One crazy woman throws paint from a soda can and everything changes. It’s been eighteen months now since the green stains got cleaned off Abe’s shoes, and it’ll take another year for the captain to think about something else to look for.
She glanced through the branches of the trees bordering the base of the north portico. Most of the steps surrounding the memorial were visible this time of year, with only a few shielded by some evergreens along the base. Something flashed in one of the spotlights, and she squinted at the tiny object, seeing what appeared to be an aluminum can sitting along the edge of the floor at the base of the columns.
Damn. Better check that out—at least toss it in the trash. They’ll have my ass if there’s more paint in that thing.
She steered the white Dodge Charger with the blue stripe to the edge of the circle and pulled out her uniform jacket and gloves before locking the patrol unit. It was just cool enough to be worth the effort. She checked her watch for the shift’s log entry she’d have to write: 1:26 a.m.
She climbed the stairs toward the northeast corner of the memorial and the soda can, silently cursing the thoughtlessness of whoever would litter one of the nation’s most iconic monuments. She bent over to pick up the can, not noticing the huge figure rushing out from behind the corner column. A giant hand flashed across the left side of her head as she stood up. The fingers grabbed her upper palate through her open mouth, pulling back so violently that she was denied the breath she needed to scream. She felt herself being dragged back into the shadows behind the column. Her right hand instinctively reached for the gun on her belt, but her assailant had anticipated the move, covering the weapon with another huge hand and trapping hers in a grip so powerful that the bones in her hand cracked like dry twigs. The weapon was tossed to the side, out of her reach.
Jackie felt the top of her head being pulled in one direction, her bottom jaw pulled in the other. The tearing of her flesh and ligaments sent lightning bolts of pain shooting through her head and shoulders. Just as the light and life left her, she had the impression that she was looking down at her own corpse.
There was a collection of flashing lights around the base of the Lincoln Memorial. Trask counted at least a dozen Park Police and Metro units clustered on the north side of the circle. There was an ambulance as well.
I’ll bet the ambulance goes home empty, Trask told himself. No survivor here; they’ll need a body van instead to take the victim to the morgue. If Dixon Carter hadn’t called me about this, I’d turn around and run. I’ve never heard Dix sound like he did on the phone, and he’s seen the worse this town’s had to offer.
Trask rode the curb around the growing traffic jam as he neared the circle. A uniform saw the Jeep as it approached and waved him in past dozens of other motorists who shot him ugly glances while they waited in their stationary vehicles. Trask parked as close as he could below the north portico and climbed the front steps. He saw a very large, dark-skinned black man in a business suit and wool overcoat sitting about five steps below the main level, smoking a cigarette.
“I thought you’d given that up, Dix,” Trask said.
“I did,” Carter replied. “Had to mooch this off one of the uniforms.”
“What’s going on?”
“Go see for yourself. I couldn’t describe it if I tried. Wilkes is up there now.”
Trask climbed the remaining steps to the floor of the colonnade. A wall of U.S. Park Police officers stood between the last two columns on the right of the Memorial, looking outward, and shielding whatever lay behind them. A small man in coveralls stood beside the corner column, issuing orders to two larger men who were similarly dressed. Frank Wilkes, the chief crime scene investigator for the Metropolitan Police Department, heard Trask’s steps and turned to meet him.
“This is ugly, Jeff.”
“So I gathered. Dixon Carter called me over. I saw him on the steps. He almost looked pale.”
Wilkes snorted and nodded.
Okay, no humor is appropriate today. “What do we have, Frank?”
“She’s around the corner,” Wilkes said. He turned toward the wall of cops and made a parting motion with his hands. A hole opened and Trask followed Wilkes through the gap. When Wilkes stepped aside, Trask froze in his tracks.
The body of a female was lying on the marble. Trask recognized her uniform as that of a Park Police officer from the light-blue stripe along the side of the dark pants leg. Trask had seen crime scenes before, and the large pool of red around the top of the body was nothing new. It was the woman’s head—or what was left of it—that stopped him. The lower jaw was visible inside the blood- soaked collar. There was just nothing above it.
“Jesus!” Trask couldn’t move for a moment or two.
“The rest of it’s over there.” Wilkes waited for Trask to take it all in, and then pointed to his left. The upper half of the woman’s head, including the upper jaw, lay on its side at the end of a grotesque, curling trail of dried blood about thirty feet away, toward the interior of the memorial.
“Somebody rolled it over there,” Wilkes explained.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marc Rainer is a former prosecutor in the federal and local courts of the District of Columbia, and a former circuit prosecutor for the U.S. Air Force’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps. A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, he has more than thirty years experience in the prosecution of major cases. He is married to a former Air Force OSI Special Agent, and lives in a suburb of a major American city. A Winter of Wolves will be available via Amazon and in select brick-and-mortar retailers as of October 2016. Find Marc Rainer on Facebook, Goodreads, and at www.marcrainer.com.