Violet Lancaster likes to run at night. She enjoys the sound of the wind blowing through her dark chestnut hair when she runs on the lonesome streets in Georgetown. Her ponytail swishes with every step as she jogs on Key Bridge over Potomac River, connecting the upscale D.C. neighborhood and Rosslyn, Virginia. She feels liberated when there’s no one in sight, as if all six lanes that hundreds, if not thousands, of the country’s most influential figures drive along every day have been cleared for her. Occasionally she stops to overlook the water and the towering Washington Monument from afar. As a third-year government PhD student of arguably one of the most prestigious schools in the most cutthroat and political city in the United States, sometimes serenity is what she needs to keep her sanity.
Tonight is no different. Violet rests on the bridge and stretches her toned body. Her bangs stick to her forehead and her sweat drips down her angular face as she stares at the water, trying hard not to worry about her work due in three days. She feels a sense of coldness creeping in from her back. She turns around to nothing.
She slowly jogs her way back to her overpriced apartment just outside the Georgetown University campus. When she approaches that infamous long flight of steps where The Exorcist was filmed, she hears a sob. It’s past two in the morning. If it were in New York City, where she’s from, people might just walk away at the fastest pace possible, but not her. How can she make a difference to the world and be a role model for future generations if she doesn’t even have the guts to check out some potential crime in the making?
She presses 9-1-1 on her phone and keeps her thumb close to the call button just in case. She slowly walks up the stairs and addresses a man sitting on the fifth step from the top.
“Sir, are you okay?” She keeps a safe distance.
“Oh, I’m okay. Thank you. I’m fine.” The man lifts his head.
He tries to avoid her eyes, but she manages to have a good look at him. Even from five feet away under poor lighting, she can tell he has nice features. He looks slightly older than her with his stubble but has a boyish look. The streetlight has cast a yellow hue to his tousled, dark blond hair. It didn’t take long for her to notice those sapphire eyes under his bold brows.
“I heard some noise and wanna make sure everything’s all right.”
“I got mugged by a man outside a bar, but I fought him off. He’s gone now. I’m just resting. Don’t worry.” The man in distress wipes the dirt off his high cheeks.
“Oh my! Is that blood on your shirt? Are you hurt? I should call the cops.”
“Oh, that’s not mine. I punched the clown and broke his nose. I really am all right, ma’am.” He gets up and checks the blood stains.
Standing seven steps above her, she can still tell the man is at least six feel tall. She isn’t exactly a petite woman, but the way he stands and his elongated shadow make him look even taller than his real height. He takes his bow to walk away, but Violet follows him.
“Do you need to go to the hospital?” she asks.
“Really, I’m not hurt. I’ll just go home. I live close by.” He squeezes out a smile and walks away.
“You shouldn’t be walking. Do you even have cash on you? If you need cab money, I can give you a ten here, but that’s all I have. Is that enough?”
“Madam, I have my money with me, see?”
He shows her a billfold. In the meantime, she’s almost blinded by the beams of a taxi.
“I appreciate your help, but I’m okay. You should be concerned with your own safety at this ungodly hour. Please just go home.” He hails the cab and pushes Violet into the vehicle.
He pulls out a hundred and hands it to the driver. “Make sure this lady gets home safe. Good-bye, ma’am.”
“What about the money? How do I pay you back? What’s your name?”
That’s all she can utter while still comprehending what’s going on.
“I’m Josh. Keep it until we meet again.”
As the cab takes off, the perplexed Violet turns around, but Josh has vanished without a trace.
~ ~ ~
Josh steps into the bush and finds the lifeless body of the cheating husband. He stares at the man in remorse for a few seconds before deciding he’d better save this for the memorial service. There are five text messages on the Blackberry. Two from the same number asking to whose apartment they should go and three from another asking when the wedding would be over.
Josh carries the body to his SUV like he’s just another wasted man. Once he settles in, he changes into a clean shirt and heads to a Virginia state park not too far away, where he can find a quiet spot to dig the hole big enough for the man and the two other bodies lying motionless next to it.
~ ~ ~
Although Violet still feels a little unsettled about what happened last night, she hasn’t told anyone about it. She isn’t exactly antisocial, but she doesn’t have too many girlfriends. She lives alone. There really aren’t that many people she can gossip with right now. She figures even if she tells people about it, everyone would just call her stupid for approaching a guy like that, but she has to admit she might not have acted as boldly if he wasn’t so pleasing to the eye. She looks at the nine ten-dollar and five one-dollar bills sitting on her nightstand, wondering how on Earth she’ll give it back to the odd man named Josh. Anyway, she has a much more pressing issue to deal with. Today she has to go to the Library of Congress to get that research done.
The Library of Congress is quiet, as usual. Violet likes it that way. It’s in her nature to do the talking and take the lead in things, but in a town like this, she thinks her wit and oratory skills are better saved for times when they’re truly needed.
Violet has a love-hate relationship with most things in the capital. She hates that she doesn’t have any congressman uncles like many of the young people she has met here, but she’s proud of being able to prove herself without these connections. Right now she’s in the remote section of the reading room, looking for this old book on 18th century tort for her potential dissertation topic. Suddenly, she feels the chill again, just like last night. Reminding herself to dress warmer next time, she goes through shelf after shelf until she sees a familiar figure sitting on the floor.
~ ~ ~
Josh’s eyes are shut until Violet taps on his shoulder. Startled, he grabs her arm.
“What are you doing?” He lets go, seeing the fear in her eyes.
“I thought you were sick . . . You scared me!”
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t expecting anyone to be in this corner. I was just resting.”
“Why don’t you rest somewhere else? This is the library, you know.”
“I think you’re right. I wasn’t feeling very well. I just needed to sit down while I was looking for a book.”
“What are you looking for?”
“It’s all right. I read it and put it back.”
“I thought I’d never see you again.” Violet unzips her purse. “But I don’t have enough cash on me today. Will you take this fifty for now?”
“No worries. Just keep it. You’re a grad student, right? Girls like you need money.”
“Yes, but I don’t take money from strangers.” Her inner feminist is provoked.
“I didn’t mean that—”
A middle-aged lady librarian interrupts their conversation. “Please take your chitchat outside.”
“Excuse me. I need to get going.” Josh makes his way out at a fast pace.
“Hey!” Violet follows him and shoves the bill into his hand once they’re outside. His hand is ice-cold. She finds it strange, but it’s October after all. In a month or so Capitol Hill will be covered in snow.
“Your hands are really cold and you look pale. If you’re this sick, you shouldn’t be out running.”
“I can take care of myself, madam.”
“My name’s Violet.”
“Yes, Violet. Thank you very much. Good day.”
Violet watches him get into a cab this time. He looks unwell, and she does feel a little worried, but if he doesn’t want her help, she’ll happily leave him alone.
Back at the library, she returns to the corner to continue her quest for the book. She spots a small notepad on the ground. It looks very aged with words that could have been written with quills.
Does it belong to him?
~ ~ ~
Violet spends the next five hours working on her research until closing time. When she thinks of the notepad again, she realizes the lost and found desk is closed. She knows she can just give it to the librarian, but curiosity makes her want to hold on to it at least for a while longer, so she can find out more about this mysterious man.
On the Metro, she flips through the stained notepad quickly. She wants to actually read what’s written, but she knows it would be wrong and unethical. She wouldn’t want some random stranger snooping on her texts either.
After a late Thai takeout dinner and some TV, Violet takes off for a run again. She keeps thinking about Josh. She knows he seems strange and potentially dangerous, but she has a feeling he isn’t. She passes the spot where she met him and replays last night’s scene in her head.
He’s not here, of course. It would be scary if he was.
It turns out scared isn’t how she feels when she sees Josh standing by the steps on her way home.
“Hey, I’m starting to think you’re stalking me,” Violet says half jokingly. “You look much better than this afternoon, though.”
“I’m afraid I’ll say the same. Look, I apologize for being rude this afternoon, but I’m here to ask if you might have picked up something at the library today.”
“You mean the notepad?”
“Yes. I need it back, please.”
“I was gonna turn it in to lost and found tomorrow. I guess you can have it now, but it’s in my apartment.”
“You mind if I come with you? I can wait outside your building.”
“Nah, if you were going to kill me, you’d have done it already.”