The city emptied out as if an epidemic of black plague was imminent. Even the President and his family had deserted the governmental ship for a holiday in Hawaii.
No matter what your religious affiliation or lack thereof, the holiday season in DC was a beautiful, happy place for those who stayed put.
For those left behind there was snow and lots of it scooped up off the streets and dumped into mountainous piles alongside the road and in front of buildings throughout the city. Long after the air began to warm, these reminders of winter would remain as if to say, “Be careful, I can return.”
The colored lights, wreaths and swags of pine, red ribbons, gold ornaments decorated lampposts, store windows and the small shops in Union Station.
The entire city was decked out—the National Christmas tree and each state’s tree accompanying it lit up the park behind the White House. Concerts, speeches and children’s choirs entertained the crowds.
There were caroling and ice-skating on the Mall. Bars were lit up for the holidays and serving hot cider—spiked, of course—and eggnog. Christmas at the White House tours were allowed again, as long as the security level was green. All of these gave the city a real feeling for the holiday despite the lack of crowds between The Hill and the Federal Bank and Treasury buildings near the White House.
The Federal Government had essentially shut down and everybody had gone to his or her home state for the holidays. For the most part, those left behind were actually year-round Washington residents.
Even the red and blue lights flashing on “O” Street seemed festive until you saw the reason for their presence.
On the pavement beneath the brand-spanking-new 5-star Templeton hotel was the broken—no, not just broken—shattered body of a young man who would never see another holiday.
The detective on the case, Brian Newland, donned latex gloves and then carefully searched the pockets of the man’s pricy suit jacket and trousers. He noted the quality of the tailoring. “God, I hate jumpers.”
The guy’s from money.
He found the man’s wallet in a trouser pocket, pulled it gently but firmly from its hiding place and opened it carefully.
Brian’s hands were freezing with nothing but the latex gloves, and he was eager to don his fur-lined leather gloves as quickly as possible. The recent drop in temperatures and the accompanying snow had left DC a frigid, white wonderland, except here where the man’s life fluid spread in a lurid pattern across the icy surface.
“Jason Aldridge, age twenty-five, from Boston.” He handed the wallet to his partner, rapidly-closing-in-on-retirement Detective Roy Jessup.
While Jessup began going through the wallet looking for emergency information for the notification, Newland looked up at the hotel exterior, pondering the angle from the drapes blowing in the breeze of the open sliding door to the street below. The new hotel was one of very few in the area with patios in the pricier suites. He counted the rows of windows between the ground and the open patio door. Ten stories. A hell of a long way to watch the ground coming at you.
“He’s not a jumper after all. Trajectory’s wrong. He would have landed closer to the building, not out here in the street.”
Newland reflected momentarily that he hadn’t so much learned about trajectory from a quantity of jumper cases, as he’d just learned from what jumper cases he had had the bad luck to work. They were a nasty business and often the body’s flight path was one of the more telling signs in determining suicide from murder.
Jessup grunted in agreement with his younger partner’s assessment. “Nothing but the usual driver’s license and credit cards. Wait a minute. Here’s a business card. Well, well. He’s got a card here for a local P.I.”
“Oh, damn,” Newland said, grunting as he stood up again—his limbs freezing in the cold. His breath was blowing clouds of white as he spoke. “Give me the news.”
“One Sam Hartley. Got an office address over in the old Booker Building,” Jessup said sarcastically.
His mood was as sour as his stomach from the acidic coffee turning bad. He wished for someone he could pass his mood on to—maybe a sleazy P.I. would just do the trick.
“Well,” Newland responded, “obviously not a very good detective or we’d have run into him by now.”
The pair enjoyed the joke at the private investigator’s expense. No business that was thriving put its offices in the ancient Booker. It was as old as dirt and, despite a beautiful, classical exterior, the inside of the place badly needed renovation or, in the opinion of a few, a wrecking ball. A really good cleaning wouldn’t hurt anything, either.
“Wonder what a guy with an obviously good income, platinum card and,” he looked up toward the upper floors of the hotel, “probably housed here, needed with a third-rate private dick?”