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[personal profile] jorajo
So. I'm trying not to neglect my lovely DW account. I keep forgetting to x-post my stuff when I make LJ posts and then I'm like GRR WHY DIDN'T I USE DW AND X-POST? POOP!

Anyway.

For your reading enjoyment, I present the entire first segment of the BryCon story that will never be finished because I love it too much. And by 'love it too much' I mean I wish Connor were real.

ETA: IT ISN'T COMPLETE, AS YOU'LL NOTICE. THE PRESIDENT ISN'T REALLY CALLED PRESIDENT ??



Connor knew devastation. He knew floods and earthquakes and bloodshed. He knew typhoid and cholera and malaria. He understood the stages of malnutrition and starvation in babies. He understood the necessity of biting back the bile lodged in his throat as he held the hand of a child whose body was covered in maggot-infested sores. He understood the world outside of his general comfort zone, knew the effects of poverty and war and natural disasters. He had seen the aftermaths of so many terrors during his time in the Peace Corps, and somehow, standing in what used be the center of a coastal town in Haiti, he felt his resolve weaken under the strain of so much abject suffering.

The stench in the air was overwhelming, all wet soil and decomposing flesh, and it clung to every particle it could find. He smelled it in his hair, in his clothing, in the meager rations the group of them ate every night before going to sleep. And sleep wasn’t something that came easily. Images of the bloated, ravaged bodies of the hurricane victims he saw every day etched themselves on his brain and when he closed his eyes in the deep, unending dark, they were all he saw. When he did manage to drift off, he dreamed of them reaching for him, screaming for him to help them, to ease their suffering, and when he couldn’t help them in time, they pulled him under the gray churning water to join them in their never-ending dance of death.

One of the aides who accompanied the delegation insisted on addressing everyone by the proper title, and standing knee-deep in mud and feces and debris, Connor felt nothing like Congressman Sullivan. He felt like Connor, the one who was a year out of college and so burned out on life that he sold everything he owned and joined the Peace Corps. He was so far separated from his political self in Haiti that for extended periods of time, he was able to imagine himself as someone else entirely. Not that he disliked his job; on the contrary, he rather loved it. But in stark contrast to what surrounded him now, his political leverage was incredibly unimportant. It wasn’t going to bring back the dead or rebuild entire villages. It wasn’t going to restore power or provide clean drinking water.

“Congressman Sullivan?” Jason, the aide, gestured toward the military truck waiting ten feet away. “We’re ready to head back.”

Connor rubbed his chin for a moment before glancing at Jason. “So that’s it?”

Jason frowned. “What’s it?”

It wasn’t Jason’s fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, really. Connor knew there was very little they could do in way of helping right now. They were just a handful of politicians and advisors from the United States. They weren’t carpenters or saviors. They were men and women sent to a fucking god forsaken country to bring false hope to a nation with nothing left.

Connor shook his head and patted Jason’s shoulder. They walked to the truck and several members of the Haitian army helped them into the back. Jason slipped twice, nearly falling completely to the ground the second time, and Connor slouched on the hard, wooden bench as Jason embarrassedly laughed off his ill footing.

Connor was rough and tumble. He was made for physical labor, was made for being in the field getting his hands dirty. He was at ease climbing into the back of a military truck; his muscles longed for exertion and motion. The soldiers chatted back and forth in Haitian Creole. Connor didn’t let on that he understood them as a courtesy. The soldiers were young, baby-faced men with big grins and big hearts, and Connor enjoyed their company. One of them, Hennrick, dreamed of moving to the United States for college. He was bright, enthusiastic, and intelligent, and Connor had begun talking with some people back in Maryland about getting the kid a visa.

“Komon ou ye, Congressman Sully?” Hennrick nudged Connor with an elbow. Connor ran a hand through his dirty hair and shrugged.

“Pas mal.”

Hennrick clapped Connor on the back. “Cheer up, my friend. Haiti will survive. Look at this,” he exclaimed, sweeping his arm wide, “this beautiful land will sustain us once more.”

Connor gritted his teeth. Along with Hennrick’s intelligence and enthusiasm came an idealistic patriotism that was almost depressing. Haiti would not be sustained, not any time in the near future, and it seemed that everyone but Hennrick knew it.

Back at the hotel, a late lunch of rice and beans awaited them. Connor forced down his food with everyone else. Morale was low. Everyone wanted to get back to the States. They missed the comforts of clean, running water and reliable electricity and air conditioning. Connor didn’t notice missing those things. He missed something else entirely. Someone else. After eating, he stole away to his room with his contraband – a crumpled pack of Haitian cigarettes he bought off Hennrick for ten dollars, along with a ratty matchbook, and a bottle of warm beer – and sat on his balcony with his cell phone. The erratic power and unreliable and partially damaged cell tower made non-governmental contact fairly difficult. Connor’s calls to D.C. were not something he wanted to make on a satellite phone in plain sight of his colleagues.

He lit a cigarette and twisted the cap off the bottle of beer. He took a long drag and exhaled slowly, glad that the smell of cigarette smoke masked the foul odor he felt surrounded him. Briony was in his first speed dial position behind voicemail and he prayed silently that she was at her desk, though he doubted she was.

“Briony Clark.”

“Hey.” He smiled in relief and took another drag off his cigarette. “I didn’t think I’d catch you.”

“I’m in between meetings. How’s Haiti?”

“The same as it was yesterday.” Connor’s heart rate slowed considerably as he listened to her breathing on the other end of the line. “I’m ready to come home.” He was ready for anything that would forcibly remove him from this state of disappointment and disgust. Their delegation could push for donations and aid money until they were blue in the face and none of it would help.

“The pictures they sent yesterday were incredible. I…it looks bad.” She sounded distant. He was losing her. Losing her to bad reception or her job. He couldn’t tell which.

“You need to go.” He stared at the tip of his cigarette for a moment before taking another unnecessarily long drag.

“Yeah. I’m sorry, Connor. I really want to talk. Can you call later?”

“I’ll try but my battery is running low and the power’s been pretty bad the past few days.” He sipped his beer and leaned his back against the wall. “If not, I’ll try to touch base tomorrow.”

There was a pause, absolute silence and he thought he lost her. Then she cleared her throat. “Come home safe.”

A smile tugged at the corner of his lips. “I will. Talk to you later, Bry.” He disconnected the call and set his phone down beside him. Two minutes later, the power cut out completely.

**

The days were unbearably similar. The lot of them loaded into a military truck and they’d bounce down muddy, rutted roads to another flattened village full of the wounded, the dead, the stunned. Mothers clung to them after they climbed down from the trucks, clung to them and wept about their babies that were swept away in the torrential floods that followed the hurricane. Connor listened to their stories, attempted to calm them, to offer them any kind of hope, but everyone, the mothers included, knew that it would be difficult for an adult to survive those waters. No one wanted to say the ugly truth, least of all Connor, but sometimes he just wanted to scream it from the highest point on the island.

On the fifth day, they visited a town further inland, less ravaged than the others. It was more of a proper town and most of its buildings were still standing. Children stood knee-deep in brackish flood water, staring wide-eyed and numb at the military trucks rumbling through. Connor hopped down as they rolled to a stop. A little boy took a sudden step back and tumbled rump-first into the water. Connor didn’t think before striding over and scooping the terrified boy into his arms.

“Bonjou. Komon ou ye?” He tapped the little boy’s nose with his index finger. The little boy broke into a shy grin but didn’t say anything. “Ou byen?”

The little boy nodded and Connor inclined his head slightly. The little boy shook his head. “Mwen grangou.”

“We’ll get you some food.” Connor patted the boy on the back and carried him to the truck. “Can we get him some food and water? And the rest of these kids, too.” He gestured toward the growing crowd of children who were inching closer and closer to the truck. He deposited the boy in the arms of an aid worker, his irritation mounting with every passing second. “Don’t we have some fucking clothes for them?”

Jason cleared his throat uncomfortably. “The shipment hasn’t arrived from the States yet, Congressman.”

“Then someone better be on the goddamn phone to whoever is in charge of shipping the supplies instead of dicking around in the back of a truck while people drink this putrid fucking water!” Connor slammed his palm against the side of the truck and turned around, only to find himself face to face with a young woman who had a baby on her hip.

“Excuse me, Sir. My baby, my baby she is sick.” The woman offered her baby to Connor. He took the small girl in his arms. He didn’t need any medical training to know the girl had an incredibly high fever.

“How long has she been like this?” He pressed a hand to the little girl’s forehead. She clung to him weakly, her eyes vacant and droopy.

“Since the storm, Sir. Please. Can you help?” The woman couldn’t have been more than seventeen and Connor nodded, motioning toward the truck.

“We can help. We have limited supplies but there are doctors traveling with us.” He helped the woman to the truck and kissed the little girl’s forehead before handing her to another aid worker.

That day dragged on and on. He helped distraught mothers and injured men to the truck, handed out what little food and water they had, and tried to keep bored children entertained. His neck, back, and shoulders ached when they finally ran out of supplies. When it became obvious that the truck was loading up and heading out, those who had yet to receive medical attention or supplies, surged toward the truck. Connor buried his head in his hands and ignored the pleas that were shouted as they began driving away.

Their trip back to Port-au-Prince was weighted with silence and guilt. Connor didn’t know where the hold-up was on the supplies from the States. Word from his office indicated that everything had been shipped to Haiti already and should’ve arrived the day before. Everything was designated to the (aid organization) they were working with, so there shouldn’t have been any hold up at Toussaint L’Ouverture.

When they arrived at their hotel, Connor found Hennrick in the bar having a beer with some other soldiers. He joined them, bought them a round, and thanked them quietly for the pack of cigarettes they pushed his way.

“Congressman Sully,” Hennrick draped an arm over Connor’s shoulders with a jovial grin, “he is too quiet, yes? Needs a few more beers.” His compatriots laughed heartily and another round was ordered. The other soldiers finished their beers and left the bar to carouse the thoroughfare that ran by the hotel.

When they were alone, Connor ordered a round of scotch for the two of them. “Hennrick, I need a favor.” Connor paid the bar tab before lighting a cigarette. The bartender set the tumblers of liquor in front of them and moved down to tend to the other patrons.

“Anything for you, Congressman Sully.” Hennrick curled his enormous hands around his tumbler with a nod. “You name it.”

“I need a ride over to the airport. I need to check to see if a cargo shipment from the States has arrived.” The tension between the Haitian government and the U.S. government was strong enough to make Connor suspicious when a shipment didn’t show up when it was expected.

Hennrick shook his head slowly and leaned in close to Connor. “You do not want to do that, Sir.” He poked Connor’s shoulder with his thick index finger. “Stay away.”

Connor narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean? What’s going on?”

“Promise me, Congressman Sully.” Hennrick’s brow furrowed as he moved to clamp his hand on Connor’s shoulder. “Promise me you’ll stay away.”

Movement several feet away caught Connor’s eye. Jason smiled apologetically. “I’m sorry, Congressman, but there’s a call from the White House waiting for you in the conference room.”

Connor nodded and looked back to Hennrick, who finished the rest of his scotch in a gulp and got to his feet. “Remember, Congressman Sully. Remember what I said.” He brushed between Connor and Jason as he left the bar and headed for the entrance.

“What was that all about?” Jason’s inquiry was innocent and good-natured but Connor simply shook his head and ground out his cigarette.

“What’s the call?” He followed Jason to the hotel’s conference room. The lights dimmed for a second or two and then surged back to full power.

“Briefing with senior staff.” Jason motioned to the third door on their left.

Connor nodded and pulled open the door to the conference room. The other people in his group were already seated around the table: Congressman Jarrett from Illinois; Congressman Little from California; Senator Walker from Pennsylvania; Stanley Fellows and Sarah Caldwell from the NSA; Valerie Markis, the Deputy National Security Advisor to the President; Admiral Blackwell, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs; Mary Sitwell, the director of FEMA; Zachary Cohen, the White House Communications director; and Jessica, Natalie, Brendan, and Mike, Jason’s fellow aids. Connor took a seat next to Congressman Jarrett and Jason sat beside Jessica.

Zachary cleared his throat. “We’re here.”

“Thank god. It’s not like we have a lot of spare time.” Briony’s voice sounded so far away and it made Connor unbelievably weary. He wanted to be back in D.C., at her apartment drinking beer and forcing her to watch junk reality television shows while she bitched about a vote on the floor she needed from him.

“This is Clarion McKay. How do things look on the ground?”

Admiral Blackwell sat forward, hands clasped on the table in front of him. “Total devastation, Ma’am. Worst along the coast, lots of flooding. Lots of fatalities.”

“Briony Clark. Have you dispersed any of the supplies?”

Connor turned in his chair toward the phone positioned in the center of the table. “Shipment hasn’t arrived yet. I was going to head over to the airport when we were finished to check it out.”

It seemed that every person in the room swiveled in their chair to look at him. He glanced at them and then shrugged. “It was just an idea.”

Admiral Blackwell shook his head at Connor. “We’ll arrange a meeting with President ?? to check on the supplies.”

“Briony Clark again. Mary, what’s the deal with housing? What kind of aid will we need to get down there with the National Guard?”

Connor sat back, fingers at chin, as the conversation continued. There was talk about the deployment of the National Guard, the tents, food, clothing, and water that would be needed. Connor’s mind was on the shipment of supplies that was supposed to be there already. As soon as it became readily apparent that Haiti was going to suffer her worse direct hit of a major hurricane in known history, Connor pushed for donations from his constituency. They responded much like he expected them to. They gave what they could, overwhelmingly so. That combined with donations from a few other congressional districts and gifts from some larger companies, they had enough immediate supplies to at least ease a bit of the suffering of some people.

Not having those supplies, not being able to help sick children and their fretful mothers made Connor feel impotent. He was in Haiti to do a fucking job and he couldn’t very well do it when all of his tools were lost somewhere between the United States and the Haitian government. And Hennrick’s reaction to his request didn’t exactly bolster confidence. There was definitely something Connor wasn’t supposed to see or know about going on at the airport, which only made Connor more curious, especially if whatever was going on was keeping much needed supplies from reaching hurricane victims.

“Congressman Sullivan? Are you still with us?” Briony’s sharp tone broke his reverie and Congressman Jarrett elbowed him in the ribs. Connor sat forward as he cleared his throat.

“I’m here.”

“Good. I’m sorry to interrupt your little daydreaming session there but please listen to me when I tell you to stay away from the airport unless you’re with the delegation and meeting with the president of Haiti.”

Connor nodded and pushed his chair back from the table. “Is that all?”

The rest of the delegation glanced around the table at one another and a few people nodded. There was some noise over the phone line and then Clarion’s voice crackled over the fading connection. “We’ll brief again in the morning after the meeting is scheduled with President ??.”

**

Connor made his way down the steep incline of the street that ran up the small hotel. Despite their location in the only truly nice part of Port-au-Prince, they were not exempt from power outages and storm damage. Connor’s room looked down the mountain at the city sprawling below. Even from that vantage point, even with the distance between their location and the beaches, Connor could see the developed neighborhoods give way to the shanty towns and slums that spread along the length of the coast.

Right now he didn’t want to see the slums from his hotel balcony. Even with power outages, broken windows, and a damaged roof, the hotel was a slice of heaven compared to what awaited Connor in the slums. He knew he couldn’t get there on foot; it was far too great a distance and the sun would go down before he even got halfway there.

At the bottom of the street, Connor stepped into the corner bar, which was dimly lit, a generator chugging away in the corner. He took a seat at the bar, and the bartender set a lukewarm beer in front of him without saying a word. Connor bummed a cigarette and a light from the elderly man to his right. He was addicted to Haitian cigarettes now, a habit he knew it’d be hell to kick once he was back in the States. Normally he despised smoking, thought it was a dirty, wasteful habit, but here it seemed to fit. It was the only company he had, smoking a cigarette gave him a chance to think, to absorb what he was seeing on a daily basis.

It angered him that the people who already had nothing now had even less, that they suffered the brunt of this storm while the people who could afford to lose a little stayed more or less secure in their bubble of wealth and privilege. He hated that he was among that group, drinking with them in the bar and going to sleep each night in a comfortable bed with clean sheets and clean drinking water just a few feet away.

His anger about things like that made him a good public servant and also a bit of a liability. Briony warned him over and over about losing his head, about getting too deeply involved in situations, warned him to stay detached and unemotional because it would make the bad parts less disappointing. Connor knew her advice was sound and that he should heed it but he couldn’t stop. There were just too many people hurting, too much going on in this one town alone to stop. And wasn’t that why he was elected? To listen to and govern in favor of his constituency? His dedication to foreign relations and particularly foreign aid landed him the chairmanship of a subcommittee, didn’t it? So what kind of example was he if he didn’t fight for these people?

He finished his beer and motioned for the bartender to bring another. So maybe he was a liability. He was one of the youngest Representatives in the House but he was also one of the smartest. It needed to count for something. It needed to mean something to him more than it did now. Because now, stuck in Haiti with death and destruction awaiting him every day when they ventured away from the hotel, his mind was trained on Briony, on her smile and her voice and the promise that he would see her soon, would be able to make sense of everything that had been so wrong in his mind for so long.

An hour later, he left the bar, numb with thought. He rubbed his eyes and looked up at the hotel. The lights were blazing inside, powerful against the encroaching dusk. He wondered about the supplies, wondered where they were, why they were being held up, but as night was falling fast, he had little choice but to retreat back up the hill to the hotel.

He walked slowly, one foot in front of the other, hands in pockets. The spirit of the city wasn’t really dampened by the hurricane or the damage. Below him, the smell of garlic and meat reached his nostrils and the sound of lively island music wafted through the air and gave the balmy night a surreal, almost idyllic feel. He felt miles away, ages away, in a time when his life was less confusing, when things made sense and he had a plan in place. He knew how to achieve his goals and it wasn’t at all difficult for him to see his plans spread out before him, perfectly aligned with his present situation. It was all so much easier then, before everything changed.

In the Peace Corps, he thought of Briony in passing, when he saw a handmade beaded necklace at a market in some foreign country, or when he was feeling homesick. She was his best friend, his confidante, but it was easy to be away from her because he knew she’d be there waiting for him when he got home.

Now he thought of her all the time. Every day. Without fail. His mind constantly drifted back to the night before he left for Haiti, to the dark entryway of her apartment, to the feel of her warm breath against his lips and the pounding of his heart in his chest. The smell of her perfume stayed with him, hitting his sense memory at the strangest times. Or perhaps when he needed it most.

When Connor returned to the hotel, he stopped at the bar for his last beer of the evening. He trudged upstairs to his room; no one trusted the elevator anymore with the frequent power outages. He shared his space with several other people, none of who were in the room when he let himself in. He went out to the balcony, sat with his back to the wall, and cracked open his beer with a twist of his wrist. He dialed Briony’s cell phone without looking and held the phone to his ear.

“You know I would love to talk but I have three meetings right now and I’m late for them.”

Connor tipped his head back against the wall with a tight-lipped sigh. “We have to talk about it, Bry.”

There was a pause and Connor heard Briony on the other end, breathing and tapping her pen against her desk. She cleared her throat. “I can’t right now, Connor. I’m running late.”

“All right.” Connor took a sip of beer and held the liquid in his mouth for a moment. When he swallowed, his eyes watered. “I’ll call tomorrow.”

“You’re meeting with President Levé-Croix tomorrow. There’s a brief for you guys in a few minutes.”

“Will you be on the phone with us?” Connor set down his beer bottle a little harder than he intended. He didn’t want to be angry with Briony but he couldn’t really stomach her attempts at brushing him off.

“I’m skipping the brief because I have to meet with the President.” There was the sound of a door closing on her end and Connor pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers.

“I’ll call tomorrow. Have a good meeting with the President.” He snapped his cell phone shut and dropped it on the ground beside him. He buried his head in his hands. His temples throbbed with a headache he’d had since landing in Haiti.

There was a loud knock from inside the room. Connor lifted his head, stared out at the mostly dark city below, and then got to his feet with a weary sigh. When he pulled open the door to the hotel room, Jason balked slightly, then forced a smile and pointed at the ever-present notepad in his hand.

“Levé-Croix agreed to meet tomorrow, so there’s a briefing in the conference room. Some of his people are here, too.”

Connor finished his beer in several gulps and tossed the empty bottle in the trashcan in the bathroom. “Can we make it short? I need some fucking sleep.”

Jason raised his eyebrows and shrugged. “Maybe. You do look a little tired.”

Connor thought of correcting Jason, of telling him it wasn’t actually rest he needed and it wasn’t exactly exhaustion that made Connor look the way he did. But as they entered the conference room, Zachary tossed several photos of what remained of a Haitian village across the table and guilt resumed its place in Connor’s chest.

**

The morning came far too early after a late night of drinking at the bar with Zachary. The bartender, now homeless and in desperate need of money, kept the bar open far past last call. Connor and Zachary, not exactly swimming in wealth themselves, gave what they could and the bartender, Alain, kept their glasses filled. Late in the night, or early in the morning, Connor and Zachary staggered upstairs to their respective rooms and Connor fell into bed, fully dressed and fully drunk.

An odd sort of crowing shook him from a deep, dreamless sleep and he groaned when he tried to roll over. His roommates were in various states of awake and as he swung his legs over the side of the bed, Congressman Jarrett cast him a side-long glance, eyebrows raised curiously.

“You okay for today?”

Connor nodded, ran a hand through his dirty and mussed hair, and forced himself to his feet. “I just need a shower.”

It wasn’t until they were bouncing along in the back of the military truck that Connor felt fully awake. The sounds and smells of the city streets infused him with energy. Meeting with President Levé-Croix would get them a step closer to bringing aid to the people of Haiti. The NSA and military types among them huddled together, discussing the logistics of deploying the National Guard, how many and where to and what was most needed by the hurricane victims. Connor felt a sense of American pride as the truck rumbled through the city, north toward the airport. They were going to get things done, they were going make a difference for these people. The administration, a year old and still running with the momentum of the campaign, was so radically different than any in the past that many lawmakers and politicians could scarcely believe it.

A wide grin cracked along Connor’s face and when they stopped driving long enough to allow a group of women and children to cross safely in front of them, Connor called down to them to not worry, that help would be on the way very, very soon. The truck chugged forward, belching thick black exhaust into the humid air. The guards in the truck with the delegation watched Connor with expressionless eyes. He thought back to Hennrick, to his insistence that Connor stay far away from the airport.

Connor leaned in toward Congressman Jarrett. “Paul, this meeting’s good, right?”

“What do you mean?” Paul Jarrett, a man of boundless energy in a small package, crossed his arms over his chest and raised an eyebrow at Connor. “Why wouldn’t this meeting be good?”

Connor studied Paul’s face for a moment. “Nothing. Nevermind.”

He couldn’t shake the nagging feeling in his chest. He shouldn’t be there. They shouldn’t be there. None of them should. As they passed through the security checkpoint at the airport, Connor recognized one of the guards as Hennrick. Connor raised his arm, gave a half wave, and peered over the side of the truck to where President Levé-Croix waited with his staff and guards.

The delegation departed the truck, stepping down with the weariness of a crew left too long in an unsustainable area with no hope of relief. They stood on the tarmac, the Haitian sun beating down on them already at that early hour, and they waited for the talking to begin. Thirty feet away, a small cargo plane sat, back end open and insides sadly bare. Connor gritted his teeth against the anger boiling in his stomach. Admiral Blackwell made introductions around the group, and when he reached Connor, Connor stepped forward, his hand extended.

“Monsieur le Presidente, where are all the supplies? We sent…” Connor looked back at the plane, his hand still wrapped around the President’s. “We sent supplies. Lots of them.”

“Congressman Sullivan,” Admiral Blackwell stepped forward, arm extended. Connor dropped President Levé-Croix’s hand and crossed his arms over his chest.

“I’m sorry, Sir. Please excuse him.” Valerie Markis smiled apologetically as she took several steps forward, effectively shutting Connor off from the President.

Connor pressed his elbows to his ribs as his eyes scanned the guards around them. One of them looked incredibly familiar. Round face and deep, almond-shaped eyes, broad shoulders. Height. Connor squinted as he studied the young man’s face. The young man stared straight ahead, breaking neither right nor left. It dawned on Connor just as the guard flinched, his eyes flicking left. He looked like Hennrick.

The look was a signal. Connor watched it all as if it were occurring in slow motion in front of him. A guard lifted his gun in the air and fired off a few shots. The guard who looked like Hennrick drew the pistol from his holster and without blinking, held the gun to President Levé-Croix’s head, pulled the trigger, and shifted his aim directly at Connor.

Connor’s hands flew in the air in front of him on instinct. “Hold on. Hold on.” He looked down at the crumpled body of the Haitian president, his brain exposed and spreading onto the tarmac, and Connor felt a painful, familiar tightness in his throat. He swallowed against the bile and looked back to the guard. The guard stepped over the body of the President and stared hard into Connor’s eyes.

It was then that he became aware of the screams and the gunfire, the explosions and the shouting. It seemed like the whole city was in flames and crying out for mercy. Guards ran toward them, guns ready to fire, and as Connor whipped around, a pair of strong hands gripped his biceps and yanked him forward. He twisted around and found himself looking into Hennrick’s eyes.

“Hennrick?” He struggled to free himself and Hennrick’s grip tightened. “Hennrick, please.”

Hennrick pulled Connor back against his chest roughly. “I warned you,” his lips moved quick and harsh against Connor’s ear, “I warned you, Congressman Sully. I told you to stay away.”

Hennrick shoved his right knee into the back of Connor’s right knee as they continued walking. Connor didn’t speak, found he couldn’t, and he just moved ahead, trying to absorb as much of his surroundings as possible. His brain didn’t comprehend the depth of what was happening, didn’t know how to evaluate the shooting and the screaming and the fires. Guards surrounded them, shouting in Creole at one another, things that Connor didn’t have the vocabulary or calm to understand.

The smell of fire, of burning fuel, made Connor’s eyes water. He blinked a few times, tried to wipe his damp cheeks on his shoulder, but the grip Hennrick had on his arms made it almost impossible to move. As they approached the truck, the same truck that brought them into the airport, Connor tripped over something bulky and large beneath his feet. Hennrick gave him another strong shove and as he was maneuvered in line with Valerie and Zachary, he managed to get a glimpse over his shoulder at what was on the ground. Congressman Jarrett.

And then it began. Connor stared in wide-eyed horror at the scene unfolding on the tarmac. In the distance, through the increasingly thick smoke, he could just make out the body of the fallen President, along with many others, who appeared to be members of the Presidential guard and most of his staff. Three more bodies lay strewn between that point and his feet, where Congressman Jarrett laid, a bullet hole in his forehead. He fought against Hennrick’s iron-like grip, throwing his weight into the restraint as he vomited. Hennrick didn’t let go; he simply swung Connor away from the truck and then swung him back.

“Listen to me now.” The guard who looked like Hennrick grabbed a fistful of Connor’s hair and yanked his head back with so much force that Connor thought it would break his neck. “We are in charge. This is the new Haiti. The Haiti of the people!” He released Connor’s hair, lifted his gun in the air, and fired.

“Jean-Louis, we must go. They have the rest of the supplies.” Hennrick motioned toward the plane. From what Connor could see, all of the supplies were gone.

Jean-Louis looked down at Connor, his eyes full of anger and malice. He shifted his gaze to Hennrick. “Get the Americans in the truck.”

In the flurry of activity that immediately followed, Connor didn’t see the other guard approach, rifle in hand. One moment his world was loud confusion and the next, swelling angry pain in his stomach where the butt of the gun had made contact. The pain shot out from center, reaching his fingertips, toes, and forehead with equal force. He coughed, choked on the air that felt trapped in his throat. Another pair of strong hands wrapped around his biceps and he was yanked upward, pain searing through his shoulders. He cracked his head on the bed of the truck when he landed. Several others were tossed in beside him – Zachary, Valerie, Senator Walker, Stanley, and Sarah – and then the truck rumbled to life, shaking beneath them. Connor stared up at the blue sky, now partially clouded by smoke, and wondered how this could be happening right now, to them, when there was so much left to do.

The truck surged forward amid the shouts of the guards and the firing of guns. Hennrick towered over them as they huddled together, frightened and confused. Connor propped himself up on his hands, palms pressed flat behind him, and watched as the lifeless bodies on the tarmac grew smaller and smaller until they were nothing more than vague smudged disappearing into the billowing smoke. Panic drummed in his belly, deep and painful. He blinked and he saw President Levé-Croix being shot again, saw the man’s face go slack as he fell to the ground, blood pouring from the massive wound in his head. He forced himself to swallow against the biting bile rising in his throat. He thought of Briony, of all the things he needed to tell her, of all the things she needed to know. He wondered where she was, what she was doing in that exact moment. He worried about her reaction, how she would handle this news. Most of all, he thought of her face the night before he left, when it was just the two of them in her apartment, in the entryway in the dark, his body pressed against hers, their lips almost touching.

He wanted to go home.

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jorajo

December 2009

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