Capitol shooting not just any story Essay: Reporter wouldn't rest until he knew wife was safe and sound.

July 28, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Her face.

I need to see Annie's face for it to be over.

My wife works in the halls of our nation's Capitol. Not in an office, mind you, but right in the halls, where she stands for the C-SPAN cable station interviewing Congress members during their votes on legislation.

So as I sit at my desk at 3: 40 p.m. Friday, my eyes fix on the CNN television footage showing the Capitol steps emblazoned with the logo: "Breaking News."

As is newsroom tradition, reporters and editors have gathered around the television, arms folded, watching the drama play out. Two Capitol police officers have been shot in the halls, along with a female civilian.

OhmyGod.

The newsroom banter swells, but I see only the Capitol on television, my fingers stabbing the phone buttons dialing her office.

Answer ... answer!!

"Hi, this is Annie Tin of C-SPAN, I can't take your call right now ..."

Damn.

She was working in the House Press Gallery earlier in the afternoon when I called to arrange meeting in Baltimore for a Pier Six concert that night. I bought the tickets to soul diva Mary J. Blige as her birthday present. "I'll pick you up at Pennsylvania Station and we'll run over to Fells Point for a bite to eat and glass of wine," I'd said.

But now ...

"House press."

"Is Annie Tin there?"

"Annie Tin?" the clerk says pausing. "Not here."

Arrrgghhh! The tension between her words linger. Forty-two miles away, I can feel the anxiety swirling over the phone as the clerk tries to calmly connect loved ones with wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters.

As news spouses, Annie and I have learned to report such shootings as routine, a part of the job no different from the supermarket cashier scanning the grocery items with a robotic glide over the beeping glass. Another name, another body, another story.

But this is different. This is my baby.

She started the day mad at me. I didn't hear my pager go off the night before, its blurt drowned out by the cackles and chattering barroom din of reporter colleagues. When I picked her up an hour late, she was justifiably livid. Yet her anger dissipated the next morning when I gave her my Dennis the Menace, "Aw, shucks, Mr. Wilson" grin. Works every time.

I know the odds of gunfire having found her are slim. Having covered Congress myself last year, I'd walked those halls regularly, seeing thousands or people pouring through the metal detectors every afternoon. The chance that she could be one of three shooting victims seems minuscule. But I have got to know.

I had been near the very spot myself -- less than 50 yards away -- just two nights before as I waited outside to pick her up after a late session. I marveled at the glowing Capitol dome, the instantly recognizable symbol of American government and world democracy.

A long 10 minutes after the shooting, Annie leaves a message on my machine letting me know she is OK. But I still can't rest. Something in my gut needs to see her face as proof -- her smiling, round, rich brown face.

I leave for Penn Station 30 minutes before her 9 o'clock train is due. I sit outside the terminal, my car window down, my eyes gazing at the station's gold doors, occasionally glancing up at the Roman numerals on the clock above.

Come on ... come on.

Lou Rawls reminds me that we've only been married 10 months. His voice rumbles out of my car radio, gliding through the beginning of the sultry serenade "At Last."

At last, my love has come along

my lonely days are over

and life is like a song ..."

I envision a joyous reunion, the two of us dashing across the concrete, arms open wide, rushing toward each other, then clutching and weeping like the romantic ending of a Jimmy Stewart movie. But 9 o'clock comes and goes. No Annie.

She'd missed the train. So she had driven instead to Pier Six, where I find her in the seventh row, bopping to Mary Blige. I frantically climb over the row of annoyed people and reach Annie, gripping her tight. I press my face against hers, wanting to tell her how I missed her and worried about her and how much I love her. How she is never allowed out of my sight again.

But she has no clue. Frustrated at our miscommunication, she is yakking at me about how I should have met her at the pier. She told a co-worker to relay the message, a signal I never received. She grouses for a while above the throbbing music. For some reason, I don't mind.

The concert ends and we drive home in separate cars. I find my mind shifting back to my wait at the train station. I remember staring at the American flag swaying in the summer breeze, the sound of a passing police car siren bouncing off the night.

My eyes well with tears as I realize that the families of two Capitol police officers wouldn't be as fortunate as I am. Those faces -- a father's face, a husband's face -- wouldn't walk through the door that night. Or ever again.

And then I think: What has gone wrong with this country? So this is why they call it terrorism.

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