Today's Reading

Brushing past the waitress, Marcus unzipped his leather jacket, giving him quick access to his Sig Sauer, though he didn't draw it yet. As he headed to the front door, he scanned the eyes of the various customers seated about the diner. None of them looked nervous. None of them seemed alarmed. Apparently none of them had even noticed the shot or cared, or they assumed like the waitress that it was a car backfiring. They were simply eating their omelets or reading their papers or doing their crossword puzzles or lost in their smartphones, oblivious to the danger or just numb to it, having lived in the southeastern section of D.C. all their lives.

Marcus stepped out onto Eleventh Street and looked left.

It was now almost nine thirty on a brisk, cloudless, spectacular Sunday morning, the kind of day that made him love living in the nation's capital, especially in the fall. The leaves still clinging to their branches were vibrant gold and maroon and yellow and orange. But nature would have her way. Even those were falling to the ground, swirling along the sidewalks and spinning down the streets amid stiff breezes that signaled winter was coming soon.

Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, Marcus looked right.

Again, nothing was obviously amiss. All was quiet. No cars were moving. No trucks. Barely anyone was on the streets, save a few young girls playing jump rope nearby. Marcus heard no pounding of running feet, no yelling, no screeching tires or approaching sirens. The only sound was that of an American flag, its colors now a bit faded, snapping sharply atop a tall steel pole outside the diner.

"All clear out back," Kailea said, coming up behind him. "What've you got?"

Marcus just stared up Eleventh Street, then started walking northward.

"What is it?" she pressed.

Marcus said nothing, but his pace increased. Soon he was jogging, with Kailea hastening to catch up. When they reached East Capitol Street, Marcus stopped abruptly in front of a dry-cleaning shop. He swept left to right, then turned his attention to the nearly barren trees of Lincoln Park. That's when he heard the Glock again. This time four shots rang out in rapid succession.

A moment later, an automatic rifle erupted. It was an AR-15, or perhaps an M4, and the burst was followed almost immediately by bloodcurdling shrieks like nothing he'd heard since Kabul and Fallujah.

"The church!" yelled Marcus, and he broke into a sprint.


CHAPTER FOUR

Kailea Curtis raced to catch up with Marcus, who was a good twenty feet in front of her.

She could see Lincoln Park Baptist straight ahead. The massive brick building—a historic landmark—took up nearly a city block. She saw a muzzle flash from the bell tower. Bullets began whizzing past their heads, and both she and Marcus ducked for cover behind enormous oak trees.

Drawing her weapon, Kailea tried to assess the situation. For starters, it was definitely an AR-15. That much was now clear. She could see someone lying in a pool of blood on the church's front steps. There was no sign yet of any law enforcement. The big question was, how many shooters were there? She could hear shots being fired inside the building, so that was one. The guy in the bell tower was two. Were there more?

Kailea spotted a minivan coming down East Capitol. Suddenly more gunfire erupted from the tower. Marcus pivoted around the tree and fired off three shots, trying to draw the man's fire. He did, but not in time. The windshield of the minivan was blown out. The vehicle smashed headlong into a lamppost. The driver— a Caucasian woman, her face covered in blood—threw open her door. She tried to make a run for it but was quickly riddled with bullets.

Next the shooter turned his fire on a sedan heading north on Thirteenth Street. Both Marcus and Kailea opened fire on the tower, but it wasn't enough. The shooter kept firing at the sedan and soon every window was blown out. The car rolled to a stop and the driver—a Hispanic male who looked no more than seventeen or eighteen years old—slumped forward onto the horn, which now wouldn't stop blaring.

Kailea glanced back and found Marcus on his phone. He had dialed 911 and was explaining their location and relaying everything they were seeing. When Marcus hung up, he motioned to Kailea to cover him. She nodded, took a deep breath, tightened her grip on the Glock, and pivoted to squeeze off six shots at the bell tower. This time the shooter responded with a volley of shots in her direction, and she pulled back just in time.

Seeing that Marcus had safely made it across the street, Kailea used the moment to reload. The moment the shooter did the same, she fired off three more shots, then bolted across Thirteenth Street and bounded up the front steps of the church. Marcus was kneeling beside the man sprawled out on the steps, checking his pulse, but she could tell it was too late. He was gone.

Inside the church, the shooting had temporarily stopped, but the screaming had not. On Marcus's signal, the two yanked on the handles of the huge oak doors, only to find them locked from the inside. An instant later, someone inside unloaded an entire magazine at those doors, forcing Kailea and Marcus to retreat around the left side of the building. There they found another set of locked doors and kept moving. Under the cover of a cantilevered roof, Marcus led the way around the corner to the back doors as Kailea guarded his six. Unfortunately, these too were locked.

Once again automatic weapons fire erupted inside. Kailea could hear sirens in the distance. They were faint, but she knew police units and ambulances would soon be approaching from every direction.

"Cover me. I have an idea," Marcus hissed.


This excerpt ends on page 16 of the hardcover edition.

Monday, March 9th, we begin the book Tough Talking Cowboy by Jennifer Ryan.
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