The rule of the people, p.36
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       The Rule Of The People, p.36

           Christopher Read
 

  * * *

  People started to gather for the vigil soon after five, visitors invariably drawn to the WW2 Memorial once it became dark, the walls and fountain bathed in light with the Washington Monument a towering beacon away to the east. If Thorn was going to get maximum publicity out such an event, then Anderson was guessing that either the initial address or the vigil on Capitol Hill would seem a good choice, each with their own significance. McDowell’s inside sources would doubtless give him a detailed heads-up on the Secretary’s routine for the day but maybe this would be more of a spontaneous act by Thorn – even perhaps a genuine gesture of sympathy for the people of Vietnam.

  By six o’clock numbers had grown to around three thousand, the master of ceremonies leaving it for another few minutes before starting. An experienced speaker, he stood in front of the Freedom Wall, his introduction a clever blend of eloquence and emotion; on the giant screen behind him, the tragic images from that brutal day were revealed, each one only serving to emphasise the depth of Vietnam’s suffering. The next four speakers had actually been in Hanoi during the attack, the first unable to hold back the tears as he described the scene outside of his hotel; finally it was the turn of a Vietnamese mother of three, her son killed that day in front of her, her own injuries clear to see.

  The handing out of the candles in their protective shields was a slightly less sombre affair than the address; large candles first, one for each victim of the attack, some with a name painted in red. The glow of lit candles quickly spread out from the Freedom Wall, people sharing a few words with their neighbours while they waited. The snow that had threatened all day finally made an appearance as prayers were said, a minute’s respectful silence again held to honour those that had died. To Anderson it was a fitting tribute, people standing silent and motionless, the snow and flickering light from several thousand candles almost magical.

  But that wasn’t why he and Flores were there. They stood on the fringe of the crowd, facing north-west, Anderson definitely feeling out of place, guilty that his main focus was somewhere other than the vigil. The march would progress along the Mall to finish at the steps of the Capitol, the organisers wanting to stretch out the line of candles so as to make it more effective for the cameras. Although the number of those taking part might be less than had been hoped for, the media were well represented, public opinion needing a gentle reminder as to why America might soon be at war. Some of those presently there could well have been part of the anti-war protest from the previous day, the vigil illustrating the pointlessness of war as much as the need to punish China.

  The start of the march was pretty much a free-for-all, people setting off as they saw fit and at their own pace, the candleholders and plastic shields not always proving that effective against the snow and a gusting wind. Mayor Henry appeared almost immediately, a few dozen hands shaken, a single candle lit, the media taking the obligatory photographs – then he was gone, the TV crews and reporters also taking it as their cue to leave.

  Anderson hadn’t even manged to get close, Flores doing little better. McDowell would have found it equally tricky if he’d bothered to turn up, the Mayor swallowed-up by the crowd within seconds. His bodyguards certainly seemed to have had everything well in hand and the single argumentative protestor had been quickly bundled away. Anderson had even reverted to scanning every face in his search for McDowell, his actions drawing the odd look and comment; not that he could have done much anyway, Flores the only one of them carrying a gun.

  With Mayor Henry safely back in his bullet-proof limousine, Anderson tracked the leading marchers from the south as they walked slowly towards the Washington Monument. The snow was getting heavier by the minute, the Mall now lightly covered and it was becoming harder to see beyond the far fringe of trees; yet Anderson still wasn’t yet ready to give up for the day, prepared to spend another hour or so trudging his way through the snow.

  Flores followed-on to the north, slightly fed-up, his expectations verging on the non-existent, but at least he was doing something more constructive than simply sitting at home and moping. Pat McDowell had turned his house from a welcoming sanctuary to a place where his wife was nervous to be alone or even open the front door, and it would take time to get back to something approaching normality. McDowell needed to be repaid for the pain he had caused and if a cold and lonely trek along the Mall could offer a slim chance of vengeance, then so be it.
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