i noticed the police cars as i turned the corner of 13th and I St. one, then two, then another pair a few hundred feet away. all strategically placed to block cross-street traffic across new york avenue.
walking down the block toward 13th and new york, the wind rattled my umbrella and i tilted it forward in front of my face, hoping it wouldn't turn itself inside out. the rain had been relentless all morning. when i neared the crosswalk and raised the umbrella up again, a policeman extended his arm out at 90 degrees, palm towards me, in the universal symbol of "stop right there." so i stopped.
the traffic backed up behind the police car barricades. people were stopped at the intersection with me, as well as across the street and down the block. horns blared angrily in the near distance - people who could not see the scene, angry about the inexplicable standstill. a metro bus's doors hissed open and let some passengers out, even though it was not an official stop. the passengers thanked him as they descended the grimy steps into the rain.
i waited, with a kind of sick fascination, for what was coming. two minutes turned into five, five into ten. the gray skies continued to sling gusts of rain, and the water gathered in growing pools.
i realized that it was suprisingly quiet.
the first motorcycle came through with a roar and the short, staccato bursts of police sirens. these were not the long, slow wails of an emergency, of an ambulance on its way to a rescue - these were the hard, angry notes of authority.
woop, woooop woooop, with a grainy volume that you felt in your toes.
the first was followed by a second, and a third and a fourth and fifth. then came the limos, long and black with blinding gold insignias on the doors. then the hulking, midnight-dark SUVs, one after the other, the final one with it windows down and filled with secret service agents. the thick, whooshing sound of tires flying over wet concrete was cyclical and continuous, like the beginning of motion sickness - like the end of a bad dream.
that's him, i thought.
a single thought, unperturbed by any other complicating emotions or opinions. i didn't expect it to be so simple, but there it was. a singular thought, husked of every association, but still heavy as lead.
as the end of the motorcade disappeared down new york avenue, above my head from somewhere in the city a church bell tolled out the time: a quarter til the hour. four notes that set the tone, then four that rose, and four that fell again. but the full tolling of the bell, with its long solitary notes and finality of purpose, did not come. it could not come until its appointed time. and so its absence hung in the air for a moment, an anticipation without excitement - a future without a present.
slowly, all around me, traffic and people began to move again. i turned and stepped off of the curb, hopping over a small river of rain that had gathered in the street and was spiraling, in its inevitable way, towards a sewer grate.