The U.S. Capitol Building stands regally at the eastern end of the National Mall, on a raised plateau that city designer Pierre LEnfant described as a pedestal waiting for a monument. The Capitols massive footprint measures more than 750 feet in length and 350 feet deep. Housing more than sixteen acres of floor space, it contains an astonishing 541 rooms. The neoclassical architecture is meticulously designed to echo the grandeur of ancient Rome, whose ideals were the inspiration for Americas founders in establishing the laws and culture of the new republic.
The new security checkpoint for tourists entering the Capitol Building is located deep within the recently completed subterranean visitor center, beneath a magnificent glass skylight that frames the Capitol Dome. Newly hired security guard Alfonso Nuñez carefully studied the male visitor now approaching his checkpoint. The man had a shaved head and had been lingering in the lobby, completing a phone call before entering the building. His right arm was in a sling, and he moved with a slight limp. He was wearing a tattered army-navy surplus coat, which, combined with his shaved head, made Nuñez guess military. Those who had served in the U.S. armed forces were among the most common visitors to Washington.
Good evening, sir, Nuñez said, following the security protocol of verbally engaging any male visitor who entered alone.
Hello, the visitor said, glancing around at the nearly deserted entry. Quiet night.
NFC play-offs, Nuñez replied. Everyones watching the Redskins tonight. Nuñez wished he were, too, but this was his first month on the job, and hed drawn the short straw. Metal objects in the dish, please.
As the visitor fumbled to empty the pockets of his long coat with his one working hand, Nuñez watched him carefully. Human instinct made special allowances for the injured and handicapped, but it was an instinct Nuñez had been trained to override.
Nuñez waited while the visitor removed from his pockets the usual assortment of loose change, keys, and a couple of cell phones. Sprain? Nuñez asked, eyeing the mans injured hand, which appeared to be wrapped in a series of thick Ace bandages.
The bald man nodded. Slipped on the ice. A week ago. Still hurts like hell.
Sorry to hear that. Walk through, please.
The visitor limped through the detector, and the machine buzzed in protest.
The visitor frowned. I was afraid of that. Im wearing a ring under these bandages. My finger was too swollen to get it off, so the doctors wrapped right over it.
No problem, Nuñez said. Ill use the wand.
Nuñez ran the metal-detection wand over the visitors wrapped hand. As expected, the only metal he detected was a large lump on the mans injured ring finger. Nuñez took his time rubbing the metal detector over every inch of the mans sling and finger. He knew his supervisor was probably monitoring him on the closed circuit in the buildings security center, and Nuñez needed this job. Always better to be cautious. He carefully slid the wand up inside the mans sling.
The visitor winced in pain.
Its okay, the man said. You cant be too careful these days.
Aint that the truth. Nuñez liked this guy. Strangely, that counted for a lot around here. Human instinct was Americas first line of defense against terrorism. It was a proven fact that human intuition was a more accurate detector of danger than all the electronic gear in the worldthe gift of fear, as one of their security reference books termed it.
In this case, Nuñezs instincts sensed nothing that caused him any fear. The only oddity that he noticed, now that they were standing so close, was that this tough-looking guy appeared to have used some kind of self-tanner or concealer makeup on his face. Whatever. Everyone hates to be pale in the winter.
Youre fine, Nuñez said, completing his sweep and stowing the wand.
Thanks. The man started collecting his belongings from the tray.
As he did, Nuñez noticed that the two fingers protruding from his bandage each bore a tattoo; the tip of his index finger bore the image of a crown, and the tip of his thumb bore that of a star. Seems everyone has tattoos these days, Nuñez thought, although the pads of his fingertips seemed like painful spots to get them. Those tats hurt?
The man glanced down at his fingertips and chuckled. Less than you might think.
Lucky, Nuñez said. Mine hurt a lot. I got a mermaid on my back when I was in boot camp.
A mermaid? The bald man chuckled.
Yeah, he said, feeling sheepish. The mistakes we make in our youth.
I hear you, the bald man said. I made a big mistake in my youth, too. Now I wake up with her every morning.
They both laughed as the man headed off.
Childs play, Malakh thought as he moved past Nuñez and up the escalator toward the Capitol Building. The entry had been easier than anticipated. Malakhs slouching posture and padded belly had hidden his true physique, while the makeup on his face and hands had hidden the tattoos that covered his body. The true genius, however, was the sling, which disguised the potent object Malakh was transporting into the building.
A gift for the one man on earth who can help me obtain what I seek.