New York City
Bryan Benson grasped the outstretched hand of his sweet wife as they left through the big bronze doors of New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Her other arm held Tatum close, where he belonged. Midnight Mass this year came with heavy hearts as reports of bombings all over the world were addressed and prayed for. This was shaping up to be the best of times, and the worst of times. For his personal life, this was the best Christmas ever. Yet Christians hadn’t been attacked so directly since the days of the Crusades. He felt a little guilty for rejoicing in his own good fortune as he thought about the families torn apart by foolish men targeting innocents. Just the word jihad boiled his blood.
Tatum cried loudly at the bitter cold on his face. It brought Bryan back to the present. Claire let go of Bryan’s hand as she bounced Tatum up and down reassuringly. The little cherub’s face was the only skin Bryan could see on the three month old child. Oh how he loved this little boy, and thanked the Lord that love drove the anger from him. To add to the jubilation of the season, Claire told him last night that less than eight months from now, he would once again be a father.
The extra bulk of the car seat and the diaper bag didn’t slow Bryan down, though it had delayed them in getting out of the church. He reached the south side of the steps, one hand dedicated to Claire, the other to the car seat. They settled into a spot at the curb to hail a cab, preferably a minivan.
At home there was a large pile of gifts, many of them for Tatum. Last year’s tree was nearly barren of presents compared to this year, but back then they were working on the discipline of paying off their debts. Their debt free journey finished in the spring; something few couples achieved by the ages of 23 and 25. “Yes,” Bryan said aloud and took in a deep breath of cold air and felt at peace.
Squealing tires instantly sharpened Bryan’s senses. A late model Suburban was accelerating down 5th Street at a reckless speed. No one was in a hurry, not at this time of night. Something was off. His hand went to his gun and unsnapped the shoulder holster. Training seemed to slow things down and for that he was grateful.
As the SUV reached the intersection of 5th and 51st, a body jumped from the back seat of the moving vehicle. There was something not right about how easily the man moved with what looked like a bit more weight than his agility should afford him.
“He’s got a bomb!” The shout echoed across the crowded street.
Bryan instantly realized why the man looked so heavy. He pulled his gun with his right hand, while his left dropped the diaper bag and the car seat. The man on foot wasn’t visible. Bryan refocused on the first target.
Within moments he had a clear shot and double tapped twice through the windshield. The heavy car jerked away from the crowd and smashed through the back of a cab, coming to rest under the statue of Atlas, across the street.
Bryan had not waited for the car to stop before finding the man who jumped into the crowd from the now smoking Chevy. Everything was still moving in slow motion. The bomber had reached the sidewalk and Bryan didn’t have a clear shot. Every step brought the bomber closer to more people as they continued to pour out of the Cathedral. The bomber moved clear of the trees. Bryan could see the whites of the bomber’s eyes, the detail of the fishing vest that was obviously more than just that. He took aim and fired.
The blast knocked Bryan to the ground. His gun fell from his hand and for a moment he could neither see or hear. He fought the fog, trying to keep his wits – he had to find his love, his Claire.
His body finally began to recover, but oh so slowly. Blurry shapes gained colors and he saw green only a few inches from his eyes. The smell told him he was facing the trash can. He rose to one knee. The blurry colors became more distinct. Several other people were getting to their feet. He frantically looked for her coat. So many were bleeding, the screams were just making it past the ringing in his ears. Then he noticed some not getting up.
Oh no, oh no, oh no, where are you, Claire?
She wasn’t moving.
He crawled to her, his insides cramping around his spine, and pain shooting up his left leg with every move.
He reached out and as he did, the darkness began to spread out from under her.
No, No, No!
The bitter smell of iron.
He rolled his angel over and her face was already going white.
He knew she was gone . . .
His little boy cradled in her arms, no movement, no cry.
His eyes, closed peacefully, the dark, sticky reality streaming from the swaddled babe.
Life left his little body.
Bryan’s soul felt ripped from his body. He cradled what was left of his family as his world fell apart.