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Persistence of Memory -- An Online Novel

{Continued from THE AZURE in PART 21}

"God gives only the best for the birthday of Mary St. Pierre." I looked out at the tower and surrounding heavens for the umpteenth time. "It's beautiful out here in the Big Apple, too. Not a cloud in the sky."

"Besides the weather, how's New York City?"

"Busy and loud, as usual. I leave for Tennessee tonight, so it'll get vastly quieter by the end of the day."

"You take it easy, dear daughter. Good luck today."

"You too, birthday girl. Have a great day. I love you!"

"Love you too."

We exchanged goodbyes, and I put the phone back into my pocket. I stood right by the window, one arm leaning against the window frame, and the other holding my coffee.

About 8:30 a.m., Bethany Carlisle had been in Abel Shipping's office on the 33rd floor of WTC 1 for two hours. Another staff person asked if anyone wanted to run some materials up to a client participating in a business expo in a meeting room at Windows on the World.

Beth volunteered, saying she needed a break. As she stepped out of Abel's suite, staff members told me that was the last time they saw her.

At about the same time, my cousin Rocky was sorting through e-mails and talking to a client in Boston. Tanya Milliken was organizing paperwork and making calls to a couple customers as well.

In North East's conference room, I pressed my face to the glass until a foggy likeness of my nose and lips appeared. I stared until the urban landscape blurred into a morass of blacks, tans, and grays.

"You really like that view, huh?" Di Lorenzo had stepped back inside. "The others'll be back in 10, 15 minutes."

I turned my head. "The view's all right. It's so nice outside that I guess I keep looking out to see that bright, sunny sky." I still leaned against the window frame so I could be as close to outdoors as possible. "Yeah, it's too nice to be working." Di Lorenzo launched into his loud laugh. "Maybe we can hold the rest of the meeting outside."

"Perhaps."

"Yeah, we can just pack up all the papers and go to a table in the plaza. A little al fresco business." "It's kind of hot out there," I said. "At least in here we've got the A.C. running."

"It's too cold in here," he said. He swatted at one of the flies, which had alit on his coffee mug. "Besides, this office is a dump."

The conversation was getting frustrating. The small man chased after the bug. "Get out of here, you little bastard! Damn, where do all these flies come from anyway? They've been getting in here all summer!"

I looked at the ceiling and noticed a vent. "Maybe up there. You should call maintenance and ask them to check it out."

"They're a bunch of useless bastards, too. We had a toilet in the men's room that overflowed, and it took them three months to fix it."

"Hmmm. Just a few more hours," I said under my breath.

"What?"

"Nothing. Just gathering my thoughts."

"Oh. You like the view?" Di Lorenzo said again.

"Uh huh." Guy's running out of topics. I looked at my watch - 8:45 a.m.

"You can see up to like a 40-mile radius out the windows, man. The only problem is it's in one direction--"

I thought I heard a rough roaring sound.

"Oh, yeah?" I shouted.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2001 / FIRST BLOOD

It happened in mere seconds, but felt more like minutes.

I saw a silvery object flash quickly before the other tower's north face. The thing vanished. I wondered what happened to it.

Giant bulbous orange flames, edged with smoke, along with debris, burst out from the north and east walls. The explosion's sound was a rumbling BOOM, a blend of thunder and gigantic tympani. I heard that sound before - though muffled - in TV documentaries. It was urban demolition, the clearing away of obsolete buildings.

Heat passed through the windows and rolled across my face. As the warmth touched it, our tower shuddered. The vibrations rolled through my upper body and down my legs. I stepped back unsteadily and spilled some coffee on my left foot. I cried "ouch" and moved back. Di Lorenzo jumped back, too. The wobbly conference room table bumped up and down.

giant bulbous orange flames, edged with smoke, along with debris, burst out...

"Whoa! Good grief!" Those were the first words I spoke as 9/11 began.

"God, what was that?" Di Lorenzo said.

"It was shiny, sort of like a missile or plane. I think I saw a wing, but I'm not sure. What did you see?"

"Just something flying right at it."

"Well, I think it's more likely it was a plane than a missile. How would you sneak a missile into New York? Whatever it was, it was horrid." I felt strange - I was talking dispassionately, but inside I truly wanted to scream. I felt helpless - a touch of acrophobia returning - because solid ground was so far away.

"You're telling me. People are probably dead now. Oh, God!"

"We should get out of here right away. Hanging around damaged buildings isn't wise."

"That's a very good idea."

I incredulously stared out the window. I saw a heavy column of smoke streaming from the tower's north and east sides and into that azure sky. Chunks of building occasionally tumbled down. Papers fluttered down like some kind of twisted ticker tape parade. The gashes glowed with a furious orange.

"I wonder what size plane hit it. A Cessna? A big jet?"

"That thing was pretty big, I think," I said. "Really could've been a jet. But don't quote me - I'm not good in estimating sizes of things."

"Did you see that?" a woman's voice said. It was Fuck Girl. She came into the conference room. "Do you fucking see that? I think a plane hit the tower!"

"That's what she said, Maya," Di Lorenzo said, pointing at me.

"Fucking unbelievable!"

"Surrealistic," I said. I went to the table and pulled my digital camera out of its bag and took several shots.

"Unbelievable. You just happen to have a fucking camera," Maya said to me.

I nodded. I started to put the camera away, but then decided to sling it around my neck. I powered down my laptop. I crammed it into the pack. I slipped out of my pumps and pulled a pair of battered sneakers from the backpack and begin to put them on. My left foot was wet from the coffee. I wished I could remove my pantyhose, but no such luck.

"It looks like a fucking movie," Maya said.

"It's not a fucking movie, Maya! Oh, my God, those poor people," Di Lorenzo said. "Who knows how many are dead?"

"We've got to get the hell out of here," R.J. said. He had entered the room, with the baby-faced trainee in tow.

"That's a good idea - to leave," I said. "That's the first thing I thought of. From what I remember reading about '93, both towers were evacuated."

"I'm going," the trainee said. "I didn't like the height up here in the first place, and now guess what - I quit. This place is crazy!"

He turned and practically ran for the door out to the hall. I never saw him again, but as far as I know, he survived. His name was Jimmy Martinez, and that name never appeared in any of the victim lists I checked months later. My watch indicated he fled at 8:49 a.m.

"I'm with him and Ms. Bailey," Di Lorenzo said. "Let's clear out of here. That plane caused a lot of damage. I don't think it's safe here."

"It was a jet. Jeremy's got CNN on, and that's what they said."

"A jet. Ms. Bailey said that's what it could be, too. So what do you think caused it? Mechanical error? A suicidal pilot?"

"Could be - or terrorists," R.J. said. All eyes went to him after he said that.

"Not that again!" Maya said.

"If it was, they're a bunch of kamikazes. You've got a real fanatic to do that."

"The WTC does have a record of terrorism," I said. I shoved my desk folder and papers carelessly into my pack, on top of my computer. "That's why we should leave. If it's terrorists, how do we know they won't hit us too?"

"No!" Maya yelled. "No fucking way!"

"Yes, way! I agree with Ms. Bailey. They hit this place back in '93," R.J. said. "We should go."

"Look," I said. "These are the twin towers. If terrorists did this, it's logical they might hit this tower, too. Maybe another jet, or a bomb." I was shocked that I said this in a cool voice, as if parroting TV reporters.

Maya screamed.

"That's sick!" Di Lorenzo said. "Sick people do this shit! Who did it?"

R.J. said, "Could be Arabs, could be those guys who helped McVeigh blow up the Oklahoma City building. Someone who hates us, anyway. Or, it still could be a freak plane crash, like the Empire State Building in 1945."

"Whatever it was, people are dead and badly hurt."

"That's why we've got to evacuate - now," R.J. said. "No one's going anywhere!" It was Jeremy the Linebacker. He crowded the doorway, trying to trap us inside. He held his yellow nylon rope. "We're all staying here with our $1,500-a-day consultant and finishing up our little meeting."

"Jeremy, we've got to get out. A jet hit the other tower."

"Who gives a flying fuck about that?" He snapped the rope between his hands. "We're wasting money on Miss Know-It-All here, so let's get going. Back to work, man."

"Jeremy, stop it. We've got to evacuate. We could be in some real danger here."

"You are just so FUCKING CRAZY!" Maya screeched.

"C'mon, guys, let's resume the meeting," Jeremy said. "Let's get our money's worth out of the brainy bitch here--"

Jeremy started to advance on R.J. An opening appeared in the doorway.

"Now, Jeremy, calm down. We've got to make a plan." Jeremy moved closer to R.J, who took a swing at him. Seeing the big man distracted, I started to run. I was laden with my backpack and camera bag. I zipped past him, intending to not look back or stop.

I halted after a man ran by me holding a long thing in his hands. I heard a dull thud. I turned and saw that the new man had a coat rack. He had hit Jeremy in the head, and he was sprawled, unconscious, on the floor.

"I saw him flipping out. I didn't know what else to do," the new man said. "Let's get out. I was in the hall when I thrown to the floor. I think a bomb went off somewhere."

"It was a jet!" Di Lorenzo said. "It hit the north tower!"

"No kidding?"

"No fucking kidding. I'm glad that crazy asshole's down. Let's go," I heard Maya saying as I dashed across the open office area. I caught a glimpse of Brian standing in Jeremy's office, his eyes fixed on the TV. I could see the red CNN logo and heavy smoke streaming from the repulsive gash in the north tower. The smoke mostly blocked out its signature antenna.

{To PART 22 of Persistence of Memory}