A Glass, and Darkly - Cover

A Glass, and Darkly

Copyright© 2018 by The Outsider

Chapter 23: Against the Darkness

29 August 2005 – Hilton New Orleans Riverside, New Orleans, Louisiana

Jeff stared out the twelfth floor window watching the rain blow sideways. Keiko slept in the other room during his early morning vigil. He knew he should be sleeping beside her, especially since it would likely be the last good sleep they’d get for a while. He woke around 0430. The frustration over not being able to leave town kept him from going back to sleep.

Katrina shut down almost every mode of transportation out of New Orleans. Even if Jeff could find an available rental car they would still have to brave the fifty-plus mile per hour winds on the roads. Debris flew around, and that debris grew increasingly heavy as the wind picked up. Bridges, especially the tall ones, were some of the first closures as Katrina approached.

Streaks from wind-driven raindrops appeared on the north-facing windows. The wind shifted from easterly to northerly as the eye wall of Katrina closed on the region. Path projections showed the storm’s center passing just to their east, maybe within a dozen or so miles, which would pummel the city with winds over one hundred twenty miles per hour. The growing daylight would allow him to watch the devastation for a little while if he wanted to. Jeff pulled the sheer curtains and turned from the window with a sigh. In the dim light he inventoried the clothes and equipment laid out couch.

A plain navy t-shirt, sturdy gray tactical pants, and his waterproof field boots would be his wardrobe for the next day or two. He counted on things getting pretty bad and figured on losing power at some point. A similar outfit waited inside the top of his ruck. After that he’d be limited to wearing parts of his uniform. His black civilian Gore-Tex rain jacket and pants lay next to today’s clothes. Also with Jeff’s clothes were his multi-tool, a small hyper-bright flashlight, a folding knife, and his assault gloves. Keiko brought walking sneakers with her, ones which could handle being damp, but Jeff doubted they’d last long in the heavy rain. Her outfits were also better suited to walking in dry weather. She brought a light rain jacket at least.

Jeff turned back to the Katrina coverage. The meteorologists expected landfall in the next hour, somewhere southeast of the city. The levees protecting New Orleans held firm for the moment. The twisting course of the Mississippi River negated any chance of a storm surge marching up it. Lake Pontchartrain, which lay north of the city with its miles of open water, would pose the greater threat later in the day.

News channels talked about the hundreds of mobilized National Guard troops in Mississippi and Louisiana. Their help would be invaluable right after the storm when outside help would be days away. During the storm most folks would be on their own, though, regardless of people waiting to help.

FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, staged numerous assets outside the projected path of Katrina. Already more than a dozen of their Disaster Medical Assistance Teams – DMATs – waited in two separate locations, fifteen separate teams so far. Each of the DMATs were capable of setting up a self-sufficient hospital in remote areas. Those hospitals could operate for up to three days without resupply, and longer if they got that resupply. Unfortunately, two of their DMORT teams also stood by to ‘process’ the dead after the storm.

Jeff stared at the television soaking in all the information he could, trying to be as ready as possible. A hand on his shoulder sent him flying across the room.

“I am sorry, my husband,” Keiko apologized. The accompanying giggle weakened her apology somewhat.

“Geez, Keiko, I’m a little young for a heart attack! Make some noise when you sneak up on someone!”

“I called your name three times, Jeffrey,” she pointed out before looking at the television. “What is the latest?”

“We’re getting some rain today.”

Keiko frowned. “Our friends and I, do we not tell you enough how not funny you are?”

“Apparently not,” he admitted. “The storm strengthened to a Category 5 last night, though it has weakened to a Category 3, not that Category 3 is weak. It should make landfall soon.”

“We are prepared?” Keiko asked, nodding at the Army surplus pack and the clothes laid out.

“As much as we can be with what we have.” Jeff looked at his wife. “We shouldn’t even be here, Keiko. I should have come home to you and the kids. I’ve put you in terrible danger.”

“Then we will go face the peril together.”

“‘No, it’s too perilous.’” Jeff smiled in spite of himself.

Keiko hugged him tight. “Not when you are with me, Jeffrey. ‘I will fear no evil, for thou art the baddest son-of-a-bitch in the whole damn valley.’”

“Just like a wife, using your husband’s words against him at the worst possible time.”

Keiko pinched him. “Wait until our daughter is older, Jeffrey. She is already very good at using your words against you. I predict she will have you wrapped around her little finger even tighter than you already are.”


The hotel served breakfast despite the approaching hurricane, though they didn’t have to worry about many outside guests that morning. Their waiter told Jeff and Keiko the hotel would have enough food on-hand until Thursday morning. They always kept a two-day reserve of stock in case the deliveries were late. That reserve might stretch without their usual amount of business. The manager at the desk told Jeff the maintenance staff had already tested the emergency generators that morning. They were operating fine and would start up immediately at the loss of outside power. With nothing else to do, Keiko and Jeff returned to their room.

After a final check of the suite they settled onto the couch in the living area to watch the storm coverage. With the eye of Katrina passing to their east, that coverage focused on its effects on Mississippi’s coast. The highest winds would be on the storm’s northeast side, which would bring on-shore winds to that area, as well as the threat of tornadoes. A dangerous storm surge would smash into that south-facing coast very soon. Jeff picked up his cell phone.

“Hello, Jeff.”

“Hi, Mayumi. Keiko and I wanted to call before the hurricane arrives here. We may be out of contact for some time.”

“Are you still at your hotel?”

“Yes, the power is still on and we just had breakfast in their restaurant. We’re packed and ready to leave if we have to, however.”

“I didn’t doubt you would be. Keep safe, Jeff. Both of you.”

“Let me pass you to Keiko. Love you.”

“And I you, son.”

After speaking to Jeff and Keiko, Hiro and Mayumi put the kids on the phone. Jeff and Keiko could hear the concern and fear in their children’s voices. They calmed those fears the best that they could, though it was hard when they felt the same thing. Wiping tears away they called Jeff’s parents next.

Marisa sounded inconsolable about her son and daughter-in-law being in harm’s way. Jeff promised repeatedly they would stay in contact as much as they could before his mother passed the phone to his dad.

“It’s a fine kettle of fish you two find yourselves in now, son.”

“Understatement of the year, Dad,” Jeff snorted. “If all else fails, we’ll try to get word to you and the Takahashis by way of 10th Group’s office. Take care of Mom. She sounds a little ragged.”

“She hasn’t quite gotten to ragged yet, Jeff. She’s only to frantic.”

“No question where I get my sense of humor from, is there?”

“You be careful, Jeff. No heroics.”

“Not this kid. Not me.”

“Yeah, like I’d ever believe that. Head up and stick on the ice,” Joe said, meaning for Jeff to pay attention to his surroundings and be ready for whatever might happen. “Love you, son.”

“Love you too, Dad. Take care and we’ll talk to you soon.”

Jeff flipped the phone closed after powering it off. They plugged both of their phones in to ensure maximum charge on the batteries. Keiko squeezed Jeff in a frantic hug once back on the couch. Her emotions were catching up to her. Jeff’s exhaustion caught up with him also. They fell asleep on the couch together.

A shattering crash woke them sometime later in the day before the bedroom door slammed shut. Jeff rose from the couch and shouldered the bedroom door open against the air pressure inside. A wave of moist, suffocating heat rolled out of the bedroom like someone opening the bathroom door after a hot shower. The difference between it and the formerly dry, air-conditioned air was shocking. The window had blown in from the force of the wind.

Through the noise and wind Jeff noticed the power was out in the suite. Shattered glass covered the bed and floor. He crunched through that broken glass while the door blew shut again. Curtains thrashed in the gale and rain spewed into the room, soaking the bed and carpet. He turned off all the light switches and unplugged what he could to prevent a possible fire later. He pulled the door open enough to slip out of the room.

“Do we have everything, Jeffrey?”

“From what I can tell we do. The bathroom’s empty, right? I checked the bedroom last night after I put you to bed, as well as the living room. We rechecked all the rooms together after breakfast. If we missed anything I hope it’s nothing we’ll need.” Jeff waved at the door to the hall. “Time to check out.”

They made their way down the stairs, which were now lit only by the emergency lights. Jeff was glad they were headed down the twelve flights to the lobby while he wore his pack, and not up. Keiko carried nothing as he’d planned. Even Jeff’s laptop rode safely inside the green nylon hump on his back. The front desk wasn’t mobbed yet, though Jeff knew that was coming. With the power out the phones weren’t working so guests could only question the staff in person. Only a handful of souls made the trek down the stairs so far. Jeff and Keiko approached the desk where two other guests spoke with staff.

“Mr. Knox, are you leaving us, too?” the manager asked.

Jeff nodded. “Suite’s bedroom window blew in. I’ll bet that’s gonna happen to you a few more times before the wind dies down. With the power out I’m guessing you won’t have water available above the first few floors for long, and maybe not even down here depending on the normal water pressure. Without water the toilets won’t work for long, either. No power and no water means no food, no way to clean up if you could cook. What happened to the generators?”

“A design flaw happened.” Jeff raised an eyebrow. “Our generators are in the basement. The door to the generator room is at the bottom of an outside, below-grade stairwell which has a drain at the bottom. The drain clogged, the water built up, and it flooded the generator room through a vent in the bottom of the door. Our maintenance staff tells me they’re shorted out and even if we could dry the room they still wouldn’t work. They need to be replaced now.”

“Murphy’s Law,” Jeff sighed. “What did the mayor say last night? He was going to open the convention center as another ‘shelter of last resort?’ I guess that’s the decision Keiko and I will have to make now: whether to head to the Superdome or the convention center.”

“I’d vote for the convention center,” one of the guests at the desk said. The man next to him nodded in agreement.

“Why is that?” Keiko asked.

“The wind right now is from the north, the convention center’s south of us, and the Superdome is to the west. Someone trying to drive to the Superdome could get flipped over by a strong crosswind gust. That same vehicle should be able to make it safely to the convention center in a tailwind. Plus the convention center sits on higher ground.”

“If we had a vehicle to get to the convention center in,” Jeff grumbled.

“No car?” the other man asked.

Jeff and Keiko shook their heads. “We’ve been using taxis and leather personnel carriers on this vacation so far,” Jeff explained. “We didn’t think we’d need a car when we got here Thursday.”

“If you want to go to the convention center you can ride with us. Might be a little cramped in the back of my Explorer but there should be room for you both. We plan to head over there now, before everyone in the city gets there.”

Jeff looked at Keiko who shrugged. “‘Six of one, half-dozen of the other’ correct, Jeffrey? As long as I am with you.”

He turned back to the men. “Looks like you have two passengers. I’m Jeff Knox, and this is my wife Keiko.”

“Good to meet you both. I’m Glen Smith and this ugly, ornery fellah with me is Charlie Proulx.” Charlie punched his friend in the shoulder before tipping his cap to Keiko.

“‘Smith?’” Jeff asked.

Glen shrugged. “It’s the most common family name in Louisiana, what can I say? We’re parked in the garage, if you’re ready?”

Jeff nodded, indicating they were. He told the manager how they left the room before he and Keiko followed the two men out of the lobby. The wind whistled through the open parking structure as Glen led them to his primer-patched Explorer. A Louisiana amateur radio license plate hung from its back bumper.

“You’re a ham, Glen?”

“Both of us are. That’s why Charlie and I were in town. An area Amateur Radio Relay League meeting and equipment swap meet ended Friday, but we figured we’d stick around and see what needs doing after the storm. We’re from the Lafayette area and that area should be fine compared to around here. We feel we’ll be more of a help here.”

Various transmitters mounted in racks took up the cargo area behind the second row of seats. Glen explained there were normally a few different antennas mounted to the roof. He removed them so they could park in the hotel’s garage when they arrived earlier in the week. Luggage and boxes of new equipment occupied one of the seats in the second row, but Jeff and Keiko were able to buckle themselves in.

“All set?” Glen asked before backing out of his parking spot. They didn’t make it out of the garage before they met their first obstacle: the inoperative gate at the exit.

“Shit,” Charlie muttered.

“I got this,” Jeff commented before hopping out of the SUV. He snapped the wooden arm with a firm shove, then hopped back in. The others looked at him. “What? They’re usually made of balsa wood. Simple.”

The ride to the convention center proved to be anything but simple. The blowing wind made the Explorer more unstable than Glen anticipated. A trash can shot from a side street and slammed into the side of the vehicle, surprising Glen. The car swerved wildly until he regained control. They drove the length of the huge convention center building looking for a way in. They spotted someone through the lobby doors near the southern end of the building when they passed. The four looked at the wind-whipped parking lot across the street with trepidation.

“Wait, where are the loading docks?” Jeff asked.

“Probably around back, why?”

“Let’s take a look back there. Maybe there’s a better parking spot?”

Numerous numbered bays backed up to an elevated dock which looked well-protected from the elements. The bays themselves wouldn’t be. Jeff told Glen to pull up to one of the concrete loading ramps. He dismounted again and walked down the dock, inspecting the area with his flashlight. Returning to the SUV Jeff used hand signals to indicate Glen should back up the ramp, onto the dock, and then drive the Explorer down it. The ramp and dock were both a good ten feet wide, so it posed no problem to Glen. The shadows hid the SUV almost completely.

“Now what?” Charlie asked.

“How about we lock the truck, leave it here, and see if we can get in around the front? The building will shield us from most of the wind until we’re on the other side. Your truck should be safe here until we know what’s going on inside, Glen.”

“I got nothing better to do,” muttered Glen. “Charlie?”

Charlie shrugged. “Sure. What’s the worst that could happen?”

The howling wind nearly knocked the four of them off their feet while they tried to enter the convention center lobby. Someone appeared inside and pointed toward an unlocked door. Jeff and Charlie held the door open against the gale while the others entered. The door crashed shut behind them.

“You folks are nuts if you came here in this weather,” said the man who helped them inside. He leaned on a wooden cane.

“My sanity’s been in question for some time as my wife will quite happily tell you, sir,” Jeff answered. “I can’t speak for these other gents, though. Thanks for letting us in.”

“It’s not fit for man or beast out there, less’n you’ve got yourself an ark somewhere.”

“Left it in Lafayette Parish,” Glen commented. “Finding a parking spot for that beast is a royal pain. We lost power at our hotel ‘bout two hours ago and decided to leave before things got out of hand there.”

The man snorted. With a limp he lead them deeper into the convention center. “Things aren’t going to be any better here. We’ve got no power, and the city didn’t supply this place at all. No water, no food, no plan. What we do have is about ten thousand of your newest and closest friends.”

They stepped into the cavernous center hall. Jeff felt the huddled mass of humanity in the shadows. The emergency lights lacked power to penetrate the gloom much at all. The air inside was warm and humid but hadn’t turned stale, though he knew that was coming too.

“I’m Ezra Washington.” The group introduced themselves. They mentioned that they were all from out of town, but didn’t volunteer much beyond that. “There’s some space still open at this end of the hall, or you can try and find some space in that direction,” Ezra said, waving toward the dark north end of the hall. “We don’t have any cots or blankets, either. I’m afraid I’m not a very good host.” Ezra explained in a low voice when he saw their looks. “I work security here. I haven’t told anyone else, but I feel like I can trust you folks. The city didn’t do anyone any favors when they told people to come here without any resources in place.”

“And you’ll get the good with the bad in a case like this,” Charlie muttered.

“Too true. I hope we won’t be here long. It’ll probably get dicey when things start to break down.”

The breakdown didn’t take long to begin. The bathrooms quickly became the first problem. Inadequate lighting, no running water, and no upkeep soon made them dark, dangerous, smelly places to go into. More people braved the elements while the storm continued. Most were from the hotels surrounding the convention center which also lost power. Their arrival added to the stress on the nonexistent infrastructure. The air grew heavier, dank, as the hours marched on. Opening the doors for ventilation proved only somewhat successful as the wind kept pushing the front doors closed. The crowd inside also blocked the air flow across the hall when they were open.

The source of this story is Finestories

To read the complete story you need to be logged in:
Log In or
Register for a Free account (Why register?)

Get No-Registration Temporary Access*

* Allows you 3 stories to read in 24 hours.