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Dressed nattily in a sport coat and tie, Adam Lenkin walked at an easy pace along the glass enclosed breezeway of The Kennedy Center's Hall of Nations, his thick fingers embracing the delicate hand of his girlfriend, Athena.
Flags of every country stood at attention as the couple strode the music hall's plush red carpet, and stepped out onto the River Terrace to take in the breathtaking views of the Potomac River.
The intoxicating scent of the mild night air was a magical blend, Adam thought, of Athena's heady perfume and the fresh spray of water from the river that lapped gently below them. The summer season was still several weeks away, and earlier the thermometer had climbed to a balmy 85 degrees. But by nightfall it had dropped nearly twenty points, and the thin layer of haze that had lingered over the Capital City for much of the day had proliferated to a dense umbrella of low-lying clouds, obscuring much of the balcony's panoramic vista.
It was nice to have Athena in town for the weekend, Adam thought as he pulled her close, gazing over her shoulder at the shimmering white lights of the Memorial Bridge in the distance. Her job as a stewardess for American Airlines kept her traveling between her home in Dallas, Texas, and all points across the United States, but her busy flight schedule often conflicted with his own business trips. As a sports agent for several of the Professional Golf Association's most talented players, Adam was constantly traveling to tournaments in Florida, Texas, and California where he brokered profitable endorsement deals for thegolfers he represented.
Descending the stairs to the Plaza Lobby of the sprawling arts and entertainment center, Adam turned his attention to the crowd of people milling about. A gentle wind blew off the river as he and Athena exited the spectacular concert hall and headed for the busy parking area. As they walked the cement pathway, chatting about the musical performance they had just enjoyed, they were treated to one final number by the Sonny Sumpter Quartet, who were wrapping up their free outdoor concert.
Gallantly, Adam opened the door of his polished Toyota 4-Runner for Athena and helped her into the passenger seat. A faint breeze tousled strands of his thinning hair as he rounded the sport utility and hopped in next to her. Glancing in his rearview mirror, he took one last look at the sprawling white cement structure until it faded into the black of night. Merging onto the Rock Creek Parkway, the couple headed for Adam's home, a route that had become so familiar to him during the past five years that his car almost drove itself.
After a short ride, Adam exited the narrow two-lane roadway that winds sinuously along the Potomac, listening attentively as Athena chatted with enthusiasm about the evening's musical performance. In no time, it seemed, he turned onto Foxhall Road, one of DC's most prestigious addresses, and less than one city block from his house on Reservoir Road.
The street lamps of the Northwest quarter had been freshly painted, and the cherry trees that lined the fashionable street were in full bloom. Even though the area was only minutes from the bustle of the Capital City, its stately single-family residences with their grassy front lawns and blacktop driveways were more akin to an upscale suburban neighborhood than an urban metropolis.
Glancing at the dashboard, he noticed that the digital clock read 10:59 p.m. It was Adam's usual style to suggest they stop in Georgetown for a quick drink and a late night snack at one of the neighborhood's trendy cafes. The bustling downtown district was a popular hangout for college coeds from Georgetown University and its sister school Mount Vernon College, and it was one of the main reasons that Adam had purchased his home in the adjacent Palisades section.
Residents of his upscale neighborhood considered it a luxury to live minutes away from the city's coolest shopping district, and at the same time, be surrounded by beautiful homes with multi-car garages and ample backyards. But, it was getting late and he and Athena decided to call it a night.
Passing the intersection of Kenmore Street, Adam stepped gingerly on his brake, in order to make a slow turn onto Reservoir Road. But the sight of flashing red lights, and the shadowy figure of a uniformed policeman directing him to stop, startled him. Scanning the scene, he saw wide swaths of blazing yellow "CRIME SCENE" tapes roped across the busy two-lane avenue. Since moving to the neighborhood nearly five years before, Adam had never once seen a policeman in the area and he found the presence of the officer and the barrier itself both frightening and ominous. Reaching for the electric control, he opened the driver's side window. "What's going on, officer?" Adam directed his question to a brawny policeman who was standing near a patrol car parked diagonally across the road, its roof aswirl with red alert lights.
Visions of a terrorist takeover filled the thirty something attorney's mind as he watched the sinewy, dark-haired officer nearing the Toyota. He had often wondered about the ramifications of purchasing a home so close to the German Embassy and had even played out several Tom Clancy scenarios in his imagination.
The fact that he lived in what law enforcement experts considered to be one of the safest sections of Washington, DC did not negate the anxiety he had each time he sighted one of the embassy's private security cars patrolling the hilly compound across the street from his own home. The ominous presence of armed guards, coupled with life in such close proximity to the White House made his concerns eminently logical to him. Now, face to face with a police blockade, Adam could not help but wonder if his wildest imaginings were not, in fact, coming true.
"This road is closed," the young patrol officer bellowed his response.
"I live here on this street," Adam yelled out the open car window. "What's happened?"
"You say you live here on this block?" the officer said. "Then why don't you go around and come up Reservoir the other way?"
It was not Adam's style to acquiesce to any demand but he deferred to the officer and obediently backed his vehicle onto Foxhall Road, notions of bomb threats and hostage negotiations coursing through his imagination.
His mind raced. He thought first of his young housemate, Carrie, a quiet suburban woman who worried constantly about the disturbing crime rate in the Capital City. Is she home yet? If not, what will she think when she returns this evening to find a full-fledged police barricade in front of her house?
Taking a right onto MacArthur Boulevard, Adam hastened along the sleepy residential street of low-slung apartment buildings, and obsessed about the weird and unexplained situation now unfolding on his block.
"What do you think happened?" He turned to his girlfriend and swallowed hard.
"I can't imagine what could have happened," Athena answered, stating straight ahead as they passed an old Navy fortress and unobstructed views of the Reservoir on their right. Slowing for the traffic light, they noted the employees of the all-night gas station across the way standing on the sidewalk, straining to view the commotion going on just up the road.
Rounding the sharp corner, Adam and Athena were met with flashing crimson-and-white emergency lights. Adam's gaze was immediately drawn to the small circle of newspaper reporters assembled on the sidewalk and the thick strips of crime scene tape secured to the hydrant just in front of his house. Realizing that he could not gain access to his own driveway, he quickly turned right onto a local side street, throwing the Toyota into PARK and tugging hard on the emergency brake to ensure that the vehicle didn't roll down the street's steep incline and into the wire gating that encircled the reservoir below.
Grabbing Athena's hand, the stocky young lawyer hurried back to Reservoir Road. To his alarm, he found a group of curious onlookers standing on the pavement just in front of his neighbor's house.
"What's going on? What happened?" he addressed anyone who might answer him.
"There's been a shooting," a young woman reporter responded.
A shooting on his block? Adam was stunned. How could this be?
"A shooting?" he repeated loudly. "Who was shot?"
"The woman who lives in that house." She pointed her finger at the red-brick residence with the tall white pillars that was three doors down from Adam's house.
That was Jeremy Akers' place, Adam thought.
"Who did the shooting?" Adam persisted. "Was anybody killed?"
"The guy shot his wife," the reporter responded, gazing challengingly at Adam to see his reaction.
"Wife?" Adam echoed her message in a quizzical, uncomprehending tone.
He had been living almost next door to this guy for nearly five years, had watched him jog up and down the street dozens of times, had peered out the window at him on countless afternoons to see him riding bikes with his two young kids. He had never seen him with a woman, and had had no idea that he was even married. Adam had just assumed that he was another of the burgeoning numbers of single dads he knew who were raising their kids alone because they were either widowed or divorced.
When he had spoken briefly to Jeremy several months before during a casual sidewalk encounterthe first conversation they had ever had in five years of living three doors away from each otherAdam remembered that their discussion sort of turned him off. He didn't care much for the "manner" of the genteel-toned but rigidly opinionated Southern gentleman.
"He shot his wife. In front of the kids," the voice of a baritone newspaper reporter pronounced dispassionately, interrupting Adam's recollection.
"In front of the kids?" Adam squeezed Athena's hand as he echoed the gruesome news.
"Did they take him into custody?" Adam asked, not believing what he was hearing.
"Where are the kids now?" Athena interrupted.
"They're with a neighbor," the reporter responded, his voice nearly drowned out by the crackle of the two-way radio on the dashboard of the nearby police cruiser.
"They don't know where the guy is," a second reporter delivered the shocking news. "He shot her, and then he jumped into his track and took off."
The thought of Jeremy driving around the city with a loaded firearm sent a shiver through Adam's body.
"Which neighbor has the children? Athena queried, watching as the female reporter raised her arm and pointed to the house directly to the right of the crime scene. The rambling red-brick home that the reporter referred to resembled Jeremy's house, save for the pricey hand-painted tiles that decorated its front steps.
That's Peter and Christy's house, Adam thought. He knew that the families shared a common driveway and that Peter and his wife had children of similar ages to the Akers kids. He even remembered hearing something about all of their kids attending the same private school.
The scene inside Peter's house must be insufferable, Adam imagined, unable to reconcile the emotional state of the two young Akers children witnessing their father shooting their mother and then watching him take off in a frenzied rage.
Even more frightening was the idea that this madman was armed and driving through the city, bent on who knew what kind of destruction.
Excerpted from Fatal Romance by Lisa Pulitzer. Copyright © 2001 by Lisa Pulitzer. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.