Target: Alex Cross (Alex Cross #26) - James Patterson
TEMPERATURES THAT LATE January morning plunged to four degrees above zero, and still people came by the hundreds of thousands, packing both sides of the procession route from Capitol Hill to the White House.
I was waiting at the corner of Constitution and Louisiana Avenues surrounded by my entire family. Bree Stone, my wife and DC Metro PD’s chief of detectives, stood in front of me wearing her finest dress blues.
My twenty-year-old son, Damon, was on my right. He had flown up from North Carolina the night before and had on long underwear, a suit and tie, and a black down jacket. Nana Mama, my ninety-something grandmother, had refused to listen to reason and watch this on TV. Sitting in a folding camp chair to my left and wrapped in blankets, she wore a wool ski cap and everything warm she owned. Jannie, my seventeen-year-old, and Ali, nine, were dressed for the Arctic but hugging each other for warmth and stamping their feet behind us.
“How much longer, Dad?” Ali asked. “I can’t feel my toes.”
Over the soft din of the crowd and from well up Capitol Hill, I heard the four drum ruffles and bugle flourishes that precede “Hail to the Chief.”
“They’re leaving the Capitol,” I said. “It won’t be long now.”
The presidential anthem soon ended, and the cold crowd quieted.
I heard a man’s voice call out, “Right shoulder, arms!”
Another voice repeated the call. And then a third. One by one, every fifty yards and moving east to west, the soldiers flanking the route followed the command, bringing their rifles to their right shoulders and standing at ramrod attention.
The drums began to beat then, the slow cadence sounding muffled and somber from that distance.
One hundred West Point cadets appeared at the top of Capitol Hill, all dressed in gray and marching in unison. Similar contingents from the U.S. Naval, Air Force, and Coast Guard Academies followed, striding in precision, heads high, eyes focused straight ahead as they reached the bottom of the hill and passed us.
Up on the hill, the slow, steady beat of the drums continued, getting louder and coming closer. A color guard appeared bearing flags.
I heard the clopping of hooves before seven pale gray horses trotted from the Capitol grounds. Six of the horses moved in formation, two following two following two. The seventh horse marched at the head of the column to their left.
All seven horses were saddled, but only the left-hand three and the horse at the head of the column carried riders, uniformed members of the U.S. Army’s Old Guard unit. The six horses in formation pulled the hundred-year-old black caisson that bore the flag-draped coffin of the late president of the United States.
THE SLOW, STEADY clip-clopping of the horses came closer and closer, the noise building along with the somber beat of the drum corps.
Behind the caisson, a black, riderless horse, known as a caparisoned steed, shook its head and danced against the reins held by another member of the Old Guard.
The late president’s personal riding boots were turned backward in the stirrups.
“Why do they do that?” Ali asked in a soft voice.
“It’s a military tradition that signifies the fallen commander,” Nana whispered. “They did the same thing at President Kennedy’s funeral almost sixty years ago.”
“Were you here then?”
“Right where you’re standing, darling,” Nana said, wiping her eyes with a handkerchief. “I remember it like it was yesterday, just as tragic as today.”
I wasn’t alive when JFK was president, but Nana had told me that it had been a time of great hope in the country because of its young leader and that hearing of his assassination had felt like a kick in the gut.
I’d felt the same way when Bree called me to say that Catherine Grant had collapsed in the Oval Office and died at age forty-seven, leaving behind a husband, twin ten-year-old daughters, and a stunned and grieving nation.
President Grant had been among the rarest of creatures in American politics, someone who actually managed to bring opposing sides together for the benefit of the country, and she’d done it by sheer force of her empathetic personality, her piercing brilliance, and her self-deprecating wit.
A former U.S. senator from Texas, Grant had won the White House in a landslide, and there’d been a real feeling of optimism in the country, a belief that the gridlock had ended, that politicians on both sides of the aisle were finally going to put their differences aside and work for the common good.
And they had, for three hundred