|“Sodom by the Susquehanna”|
Cover Art. © Paul Hair, 2017.
Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven. – Genesis 19:24 (King James Version)
Tyler Ott kicked the grape hyacinth that had somehow managed to grow in that tiny crack in the sidewalk. It bounced to the concrete and then sprang upright again. He smiled at the survivor. Still, it was better to thrive than simply survive. Indeed, that was a central part of the official vision for the Republic Restoration Initiative. The one-line statement read, “The vision of RRI is for an America that thrives through a return to Christian values.”
He had worked for RRI for two years. Or it would be two years next month. And he was as excited about his work as he ever was. The new boss was going to make the RRI vision a reality.
Gavin Robinson had good looks and was charismatic. The RRI board unanimously chose him to become the new president just six months ago. Other like-minded groups were enthusiastic about his selection. A rep from one of them told Tyler just a few days ago how amazed he was at what Gavin had accomplished in that short time. That infectious excitement was one of the reasons it had been so easy to get over 20 organizations to attend this three-day weekend conference in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
The conference was the reason Tyler had spent the past hour standing in the parking garage along Second Street, which was a few blocks from the Front Street headquarters of RRI. The RRI private parking lot had filled up quickly with the vehicles of their guests. So everyone else was being directed to the parking garage. And it had been Tyler’s job to help guide them from there to the RRI building. Most everyone had arrived by now and the first day of the conference was about to begin. So he now hurried over to the headquarters.
What a great day it was to be outside. It was barely over seventy and the wind coming off the river made it feel slightly cooler than that. Tyler looked past the cars rushing by on Front Street and at the mighty Susquehanna River. It was full and as clear as it ever was underneath the bright sun and puffy clouds that garnished the blue sky. He looked forward again and smiled at a group of people walking past him.
He smoothed the top of his bespoke suit jacket and felt the metal of the American flag pin that his daughter had given him. His wife helped him get it in the right spot on the lapel. The entrance to the headquarters was just ahead, with the RRI sign prominently in front of it. The property was expensive. But the 1800s-built building was beautiful. And the Front Street address was prestigious. That provided RRI with gravitas and made it not just an influential player in Pennsylvania, but in the nation as well. So the price was well worth it.
Tyler turned from the Front Street sidewalk to the stone walkway that preceded a set of steps that led to the entrance to the RRI building. He could see inside some of the lower windows. The place was packed with the finely dressed leaders and representatives of think tanks and public policy groups. His feet scuffed up the three steps to the door and he grabbed its handle.
And then the detonation happened.
He never really heard it. Tyler only slightly felt it before he died. The explosion sent fragmentation and shrapnel through him before tearing apart his body. Bits and pieces of him went flying in all directions and for over a hundred yards, undoubtedly landing in the river too.
The explosion also slammed into pedestrians on the sidewalk and vehicles on Front Street. It blew people off their feet, killing many, severely wounding many more, and leaving still others shocked. At the same time, it flipped over cars on the street or blasted them sideways. Vehicles collided with one another.
The blast was so powerful it even destroyed sizable portions of the buildings next to it and behind it.
Only after the sound of the detonation, the initial roar of the inferno afterwards, the collapsing of the remainder of the RRI building, and all the metal, masonry, wood, and other material flying all over the place subsided were the terrified and anguished screams of people audible.
Rubble and fire seemed to be everywhere. And blood soaked the earth and pavement. Bodies and body parts filled the area where the RRI building used to be.