It had been raining as it quite often does in Washington this time of year, it had stopped now, cold and damp, everything dripping, the hissing on the pavement of car tires whooshing by, the night becoming ever more quiet, t’was the wee hours now when the movers and shakers of this fast-paced city were fast in their beds.
I couldn’t sleep, had to walk, get some fresh air, clear my mind. Nights bother me now, too quiet, thoughts wander where I do not want them to go. No rest for the wicked, I guess, is now my mantra.
Footsteps, mine, my brogues making an almost clicking sound on the wet sidewalk below. Could tell I was heading for the Potomac, was I meaning to cross the river at this time of night? Nobody goes to Arlington cemetery in the dead of night, well, almost no one. Bobby had gone once, to place the now dissected brain in the casket of his famous brother John…I know all too well that sometimes, some very bad things have to be done in the dead of night, to get ahead.
Still…I had no famous brother. But I was working damn hard to get ahead myself.
My name, Ethan Hollowsmith. I’m a nobody right now but working hard, in so many ways, to become a somebody in a town chock-a-block full of somebodies. I’d “get there”, I’d make it, knew I always would, nothing and no one would ever stand in my way. Everyone who is anyone has demons to deal with in this town.
Yet I wasn’t gonna “get there” suffering insomnia; still, I felt myself walking away from my townhouse and towards the river.
The water, black as the moonless night, seemed so deep, dead quiet, flowing ever so slowly…wouldn’t want to be in that water right now, I thought, too deep, too dark…if only those currents could talk.
The clicking of my footsteps soon found me entering onto the bridge. Every footfall I made seemed to echo now, as if I were no longer alone. I stopped, sudden in my movement, and turned on my heels, but no one did I see, not even a car, it was as if all life had vanished but for me right now on this bridge, yet, I didn’t feel alone.
Turning my head back in the direction my feet wanted to go, I bumped so unceremoniously into a man, his back leaning ever so casually against the granite wall of the bridge, wearing a beige trench coat similar to my slate grey one but sporting a black fedora hat too, and although they had been all the rage of Washingtonian men back in the day, seeing any man in a hat now gave one pause…and bumping into any man when I saw no man before, gave me a sudden breathlessness awash in slight fright.
“Oh, excuse me, didn’t see you there.” I said, rather sheepishly.
“Yes, I know, I saw that you didn’t see me. You going my way?”, said the stranger.
“I’m headed for Arlington, I think, is that your direction too?” I responded, trying my best to quell the vocal quivering that was emanating from within.
“Yeah, I’m headed there alright. Try to head there every year, this time of year, this time of night.” The stranger said.
Really rather ignoring his response, I extended my hand in a typical gentlemanly greeting, “Good Evening, my name is Hollowsmith, Ethan Hollowsmith, but people call me by my middle name, Harold, and yours?”
“Everette, but people call me Howard.” was all he said, no last name in the offing, meeting my handshake as he did, his hand icy cold, not really clammy, just icy cold.
“Nice to meet you Howard. You from here, you work in Washington, you live near here, do you ?” Allot of questions came spewing forth, nervousness does that to me, and my ever-present need to get on top of any situation of which I felt little control.
“Used to work around here allot, yes, but never lived here. I would commute, you know.”
“Yes”, I said, nodding my head, sensing any further inquiry would be met with stony silence.
“Gosh, you know, you look so familiar, you sure we haven’t met before?” I had to ask, couldn’t help myself, as his steely grey-blue eyes looked so uncannily familiar.
“No, we’ve never actually met. Know of you though, we’ve travelled in the same circles, I believe.” said he as he nonchalantly clicked the lid of a silver lighter with his right thumb, igniting the tobacco within a well worn burled walnut pipe, the smoke - rising in swirls as he puffed - in front of his now sparkling eyes, as vibrant as the liquid current that ran below us.
“You up pretty late, not many up now, Washington is a to-bed-early kind of world, you know.” Howard added.
“Yes, I know, just couldn’t sleep.” mumbled, I did, in response, not wanting to divulge the reasons why to a perfect stranger.
Leaning one hip against the cold granite edge of the bridge and leisurely crossing one leg over the other, Howard said, “Been where you stand now, you know. It won’t get any better. Well, it’s really too late for better now. Not everything you do, the means to an end, will be worth it. I wonder, do you ever consider that? Sure, your actions have reached the power-brokers in the “Big House” in town but at what cost? You prepared to pay any price, are you?” Howard jibed, his ghostly-white hand adjusting more severely the angle of his fedora.
I chuckled, thinking this old man was just too old to “get it”, the scene here, what you have to do to get ahead.
“Listen, I don’t know what you mean and I have no price to pay for anything. I’ve earned everything I’ve got, don’t you worry.” as if he had just read my mind.
“You’re up, on this bridge, at this hour, tonight, and you know, sleepless nights will forever be your friend until you own up to your sins. I promise you won’t sleep ‘til you do and then, maybe not even then. You think it’s worth it, what you’re doing with your life right now, you think there is no cost?”
I’m sure my look to him must have conveyed a certain amount of shock, stunned as I was that this man, who didn’t know me from Adam, who leaned ever so casually on the bridge wall as if he owned the damn thing, looking at me now as if he were my Father catching me in the act of doing something I had no right to do.
“What do you know, old man, you don’t know me, who the hell do you think you are, lecturing me?”, defensive now as I was, ready for a debate, not ready to admit, nor to confess, no, not one bit.
“I know. I have no right. But you came here to this bridge tonight. You found me, I didn’t go looking for you. I’ve been in your stead on many a night just like tonight, to make deals with devils who forever scarred me in the end. You came here to clear your mind, to absolve yourself of the guilt you feel because of the greedy and hurtful choices you have made along the path to Power, only absolution will never be yours doing what you do. You have walked in my shoes and you will pay. Are Power and Money worth any price?” Howard’s eyes now frighteningly black, beady-eyed black and menacing.
“Hey, you don’t know me, what I do or what I don’t do, what right have you got to chastise me? Listen, I’ve changed my mind, I’m heading back home, was nice to have met you, I guess.” and with that, I reached out my hand once more in that well-worn Washingtonian gesture of shaking hands at ever turn, especially with the people you hate.
“Harold, I can call you Harold, right? Harold, sooner or later, sooner I think, you're going to learn the lesson learned by everyone who has ever gotten close to Evil, that It is the Darkness reaching out for the Darkness, and eventually, it's either you or It. Your grave has already been dug, my friend. No. You’re not going home. It’s your turn. My shift is over.”
And as suddenly as the beat of a blood-red heart, his hand grabbed a hold of mine and he tore me off of that bridge wall and down we both fell to the darkest depths of the granite arches below, cold, icy, I felt, as my body left this realm and sunk into the frozen water of the Potomac. Howard let go of my hand just in time to escape my fate, instantly transforming, did he, into the dark grey mist hovering over the river one can often see on a night like this, and I, well, I was transformed myself, materializing from the wickedly wet depths, flying upwards, taking Howard’s place on the bridge. I was no longer human but the living, breathing embodiment of Sin.
I am now one of the Living Dead.
My name is Ethan Harold Hollowsmith. The stranger who had just taken my life was the late E. Howard Hunt.
Howard’s price paid for his sins was to remain alone and lonely on this bridge until another just like him arrived to take his place. I had many chances to be unlike Howard and I ignored them all. Once his hand met mine, there would be no turning back, no chance to take back the hurt I had caused so many in my life, to right all the wrongs wrought by me.
We’d had on similar trench coats, you know, yet in the switch I now had his black hat in my hand. It was my turn to lean on the bridge and catch another man of sin, willing to sell his soul to the Devil as the price of Power in this town. In Washington, thankfully, not long do you have to wait.
Be careful, your actions, your intentions, take care your moral fibre, be sure that you have lived your life as it was meant to be lived, or heed my warning to cross this bridge on a sleepless, dark and dank autumn night, the price of sin hefty I will surely make you pay.