A Glass, and Darkly
Chapter 1: The End of Innocence
Copyright© 2018 by The Outsider
So as through a glass, and darkly
The age long strife I see
Where I fought in many guises,
Many names, but always me.
- General George S. Patton, Jr.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
- 1 Corinthians 13:12-13
11 September 2001 – Hilltop Road, Lancaster, Massachusetts
Jeff Knox sat at his kitchen table looking out across his back yard. Outside the sun shined bright on this late summer morning in Lancaster, Massachusetts, but that could change in a moment in New England. He hoped the good weather would hold for his shift later that night.
With one supervisor out on bereavement and another two on vacation, Jeff would fill in as tonight’s shift commander for Devens Medical Defense; a non-transporting ambulance service, DMD provided paramedic coverage to eight towns surrounding Fort Devens and the base itself. Working an overnight shift was unusual for him these days now that he was the division operations manager. Since DMD was part of the Brophy Ambulance Group, Jeff’s seniority in the original Brophy EMS division transferred to the new division with him last year. He’d been working for Seamus Brophy since 1993, over eight years now.
The laughter from his wife and children brought him back from his musings. Keiko taught English at Devens Regional High School in neighboring Shirley; normally she was already at work by this time of the day. Today, however, she sat at the table having breakfast with him and their three kids. She took today off for a doctor’s appointment. Her presence while unusual was welcome.
The coffee maker gurgled behind him signaling that it was done. With Keiko home for the morning, he made a full pot. Jeff rose and retrieved his mug which read ‘World’s Greatest Dad.’ The kids each signed it with different colored permanent paint markers and gave it to him for his birthday in August; he used it every day since opening it and it was his favorite.
He filled the mug with the dark brown elixir of life known as coffee. He would not defile it by adding cream or sugar; he drank his coffee black and never iced. His wife drank her coffee with cream and sugar, though without the ridiculous amounts of both his younger sister Kara used. Jeff filled Keiko’s cup and brought it to her; she smiled up at him while listening to something their middle child, Ryan, was telling her. Jeff stood near his chair sipping cautiously at his brew, not wanting to burn his mouth. He was tough, not stupid.
Jeff turned on the television in the living room during family meal time, an unusual occurrence. He wanted to check the weather forecast. The local news stations ran their weather segments during the last five or ten minutes of the eight o’clock hour, right before they switched to their national network’s morning news shows at nine.
Instead of a local newsroom on the screen he saw a national network broadcast already on-screen; it showed an image of one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. A large hole in one side of the tower streamed smoke into the clear blue sky.
“As you can see,” a reporter said, “a small plane has crashed into the side of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. At this time we’re not sure what happened to cause the crash.”
Jeff paused while about to take another sip of his coffee. The news reported a small plane crash but something about the image on the screen didn’t seem right to him. Jeff knew that a bomber crashed into the Empire State Building in 1945; that seemed more in line with the image he now saw. The size of the jagged scar on the side of the skyscraper seemed out of proportion for the reported light aircraft.
Rather than sit at the table with his family, Jeff remained on his feet and watched the images on the screen. The video feed came from an orbiting helicopter; the building’s image slowly rotated clockwise while he watched. Alex, their oldest child, was the only other family member who could see the TV without turning around in their chairs; Keiko, Ryan, and Sabrina, their youngest, continued talking unaware of the image.
The network news show continued uninterrupted through nine o’clock. The news ticker at the bottom of the screen continued to scroll text while the anchors tried to sound knowledgeable about the incident they were reporting. The truth was that news anchors rarely sounded knowledgeable to him when they went off-script; the news ticker told him more than the talking heads.
The South Tower began to slip from view behind the burning North Tower as the helicopter continued its orbit; it was like watching a solar eclipse in a time-lapse film. Jeff started to raise his mug for another sip of coffee just before the South Tower slipped completely out of view.
A jetliner streaked in from the right side of the television frame toward the towers. He didn’t see the moment of impact but Jeff saw the inevitable result: a huge fireball that blossomed out of the opposite side of the almost invisible tower.
“Whoa!” Alex exclaimed upon seeing the explosion. “Cool!” The heads of the others at the table swiveled to look at him.
Jeff’s mug slipped from his nerveless fingers.
The coffee mug fell, as one would expect. The coffee it held rose above the rim; inertia fought to keep it in place as its container dropped. The mug shattered with a crash, mimicking the explosion he just witnessed.
Keiko and the kids turned to Jeff. He stared at the television in shock. The legs of his pajamas and his slippers were soaked with coffee; steam rose from both. Jeff didn’t notice. The image of both Twin Towers burning captured his whole attention.
Keiko followed his gaze and gasped when her mind processed what the image meant: terrorism. She turned back in time to see the look on her husband’s face shift from shock to rage; he came to the same realization in that moment. Tears fell from her eyes. The tears were for those who just lost their lives and for those who would surely die in the minutes and years to come.
Keiko was an American of Japanese descent, Jeff a history major with a concentration in military history. They both thought the same thought: this was their generation’s Pearl Harbor. With that thought Jeff remembered a quote from Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, architect and commander of the December 7, 1941 attack: ‘I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.’
Their children were all under five years old and didn’t need to see the horror displayed on every network by that time. Jeff scooped the remote off the table before the kids saw too much and shut the television off. Without looking, he tossed the remote in a negligent arc onto the counter behind him. It landed with a sharp <crack> and the battery cover flew off in a different direction. He walked to the basement door to retrieve the mop and broom behind it.
Jeff swept the remains of his ‘Dad’ mug into a dustpan. He hesitated before dumping the porcelain shards in the trash. He stared down at his kids’ colorful writing on the pieces wondering, Is this a harbinger of things to come? He prayed it wouldn’t be. The United States would soon hurl its military might at whoever did this. Jeff hoped the American people had the stomach for the long fight that was coming. He set the pan aside; he would try to glue the mug back together.
Jeff helped Keiko carry the kids from the kitchen to the living room so they wouldn’t cut their feet on any small pieces of the mug he overlooked; he’d mop the floor in the kitchen twice to catch anything the broom might have missed. Jeff didn’t remember actually mopping the floor. He found himself loading the dishwasher some minutes later with no recollection of when he started.
When Jeff returned to the living room the kids weren’t there but Keiko was; he could hear the kids playing upstairs. Keiko sat on the couch watching a muted television. The video of the second airliner’s impact played, again and again, slowed to a sickening frame-by-frame replay. Even at that speed the plane sped across the open space from the edge of the scene with a fireball erupting behind the already burning North Tower.
He stepped around the couch to join Keiko and froze. Tears streaked down her face more than before, her face reflecting abject horror. He shut the television off again, sat down beside her, and gathered her in his strong arms. She turned her face into his chest and cried; he’d never seen her look so out of control, so helpless, not even after her brother Ken was killed.
“My God, Jeffrey!” she whispered. “What is happening?” Having learned Japanese first while growing up, Keiko’s speech pattern was more formal than most people’s.
“We’re under attack, Keiko. I know you were thinking ‘Pearl Harbor’ at the same time I was. That’s exactly what this will be for our generation and our country; I wonder what our nation’s response will be?”
“What if they come to Massachusetts? What if they come here?”
“Then I’ll make it rain lead,” he said in a cold voice, one she’d never heard him use around her or the kids. “‘And I looked, and beheld a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him,’” he quoted. “Whoever did this will curse the day they were born if they come here and try to harm my family; I will become that rider and Hell will seem like a vacation spot.”
Soft thumping sounds came from outside; they grew louder while Jeff and Keiko listened. Jeff recognized the sounds: they were those of UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from Moore Army Airfield at nearby Fort Devens. He released Keiko, rose and peered out the window. As the pair of helicopters passed over the house a flight of F-15s raced across the sky much lower than he would have expected, moving from east to west. Jeff watched while they curled south; the noise of their engines increased as the exhaust faced the house, then faded again when the jets pulled away.
“I recognized the sound of Black Hawks before, but what was that, Jeffrey?”
“F-15s,” he told her while still peering out the window, “a flight of four; they’re probably out of Otis, not Westover, given their flight path. I’m guessing they came up from the Cape to check Boston’s airspace, then the air over Hanscom and Devens. They’re on their way to Worcester now.”
“MY PARENTS!” she gasped before diving for the phone. Hiro and Mayumi Takahashi were supposed to fly back to Spokane, Washington today to correct an issue with the deed to their former home; his in-laws’ new home sat about one hundred and fifty yards from his front door.
Keiko jabbed at the buttons on their phone and waited. She grumbled in disgust, hung up, and redialed. And redialed. And redialed again. Disgust turned to frustration then fear while Jeff watched. Tears fell from Keiko’s eyes again when she was unable to reach her parents. Jeff sat next to her, placing his hands over hers.
“They weren’t supposed to even be in the air yet, Keiko,” he reminded her; their flight wasn’t scheduled to lift off until ten. “They were probably headed out to the runway and they told everyone to turn off their electronics. We’ll give it a minute.”
Keiko began sobbing again, the worry overwhelming her. Jeff took the phone from her and wrapped her in his arms again; he rocked her and rubbed her back in an attempt to calm his wife. When her sobs stopped he carried her up to their bedroom and laid her on the bed. Jeff covered her with a blanket, and then closed the door when he left the bedroom.
“Daddy? Is Mommy okay?” Alex asked in the hallway. Jeff could hear Alex’s twin brother Ryan and younger sister Sabrina playing in the boys’ bedroom.
“Come into the guest room for a second, Alex.” He closed the bedroom door most of the way and lifted his son onto the bed; at four and a half, Alex weighed less than fifty pounds. Since the boy’s last birthday Jeff often described his oldest’s demeanor as ‘four going on forty.’
“Alex, what did you see on the television during breakfast?”
“A movie. Saw that ‘splosion.”
Jeff knew he had to be careful here. “Alex,” he said gently to his son, “that wasn’t a movie. That was the morning news.”
“Not a movie?” Alex looked confused.
“That was real?” Jeff nodded. “Is that why Mommy’s upset?”
“Alex, what were Sobo and Sofu doing today?”
“Sobo and Sofu... ?” Tears welled up in Alex’s eyes. “Are they... ?”
“No, Alex,” Jeff said quickly. “No. Their flight wasn’t supposed to take off until ten this morning; they wouldn’t have been on the runway until well after what we saw happen. Mommy’s upset because we haven’t been able to talk to them yet; I think their phones are off and they’re stuck in their plane right now. Come on downstairs with me and we’ll try to call them again, okay?” Alex and Jeff headed back to the living room, with Jeff picking up the phone there and redialing his father-in-law.
“Hello?” Jeff heard in English.
“Hiro,” Jeff sighed, “thank God. You and Mayumi are safe, then?”
“We are. We pushed back from the gate, but we sat on the taxiway for a half-hour before they brought us back. The cable feed to the televisions in the terminal is out and I think cell service here is overwhelmed; this is the first call our knot of travelers has received or been able to make since we deplaned. What’s going on?”
“Hiro, planes – commercial airliners – were flown into both towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. We’re under attack.”
Hiro whispered an epithet in Japanese; he continued speaking in English. “Yes, we are. We’ll try to get our bags back and we’ll head home.”
“Don’t hang up yet, Hiro, there are some people here who want to talk to you. Call us when you get to your house.” Jeff handed the phone to Alex. “Talk to Sofu while you head upstairs to hand the phone to Mommy; if she’s asleep, wake her up so she can speak with her parents.” Alex nodded and ran back to the stairs.
Jeff turned the television on again while the time on the cable box changed to ten o’clock; the image of a smoke-shrouded Lower Manhattan greeted Jeff when the set snapped on. The picture changed to a taped scene, one that he never could have imagined: video of the collapse of one of the towers. Minutes later all of the major networks confirmed the news. Jeff noticed the news ticker reporting a plane also struck the Pentagon; reports of other explosions in Washington were also mentioned.
Jeff darted to the front hall closet and pulled a section of the wall away. Moving the piece of drywall revealed a safe, one that held a pistol. His trusty .45-caliber M-1911 was in his main gun safe in the bedroom closet, but this safe held a new Sig Sauer .40-caliber semi-auto that was becoming his favorite. Jeff tried to clip the pistol’s holster to his belt only to realize he still wore his pajama pants, so he held the weapon in his left hand.
Before returning to the television Jeff scanned his property, paying special attention to the trees surrounding his yard. With all the windows at ground level in the house, they were vulnerable; anyone intent on harming them wouldn’t care about the scream of an alarm’s siren. Neither would he – he’d just kill them.
Jeff’s rage returned. Thousands of his countrymen and -women, people he swore to protect half a lifetime ago, were dead. He knew that somewhere there were people who were happy with that news; he hoped they would meet an untimely and violent end to match the one they inflicted on his fellow citizens.
His knuckles turned white while he gripped the pistol in his left hand; his right hand clenched so hard his knuckles cracked on their own. Jeff’s explosive exhalation startled him and took much of his rage with it. He had two families to think about. He needed to stay focused. His family here was safe; he picked up his company cell phone to check on his work family.
“Devens Medical Defense, this line is recorded, is this an emergency?”
He recognized the voice at the other end of the phone. “No, Sheila, it’s Jeff Knox.”
“Hi, Boss.” Three hours into her dispatch shift and Sheila Klaussner already sounded exhausted.
“What’s our status?”
“Everyone’s in quarters and accounted for right now.”
“Is Tom in the supervisor’s office?” He’d be relieving Tom Stratton as the shift supervisor at seven that evening.
“Yes, would you like me to transfer you?”
“In a minute, Sheila. Has Tom given you guys any guidance so far after the happenings in New York?”
“A whole bunch of it.”
“Absolutely no visitors in dispatch except for you or him, no visitors at any of our bases other than known first responder personnel, all non-Army student ride time is cancelled until further notice and will be rescheduled, all bases and vehicles are to be locked tight at all times. We’ve already called our crews to let them know. All meetings scheduled here with outside personnel have also been cancelled until further notice.”
Thank God for good employees, Jeff thought. “Perfect, Sheila. I have no changes or additions to those points. Would you transfer me to Tom now, please?”
“Okay, hang on.” Jeff heard the company’s hold music. “Hi, Jeff,” came Tom Stratton’s voice moments later.
“Hi, Tom. Good work with locking things down so far.”
“Thanks. Even if it wound up being an overreaction, I figured better safe than sorry today.”
“Absolutely. Is Fort Devens on alert?”
“With loaded automatic weapons visible at the gates,” Tom confirmed. “Paramedic One was politely but firmly escorted out of Cutler Army Hospital and off the base following a call. Paramedic Four is currently still on-post and allowed to respond with Devens Rescue, but is restricted to the base. Tonight’s crew change will be handled at the Main Gate within sight of the MPs unless we’re told otherwise. I’m waiting for a call from Colonel Lawton about handling resupply and on-going access to the base for assigned crews and on-duty supervisors. Not sure how they’re going to handle the personnel who live off-post and are headed to Cutler in town ambulances yet.” Colonel Curtis Lawton was the commander of the 308th Medical Brigade, their primary Army contact and a big fan of their service.
“It’s a damn good thing they have that fence surrounding the base already up. It’s strong enough to stop a semi!”
“P-One reports they saw a crew placing Jersey barriers at the Verbeck Gate on their way out; it looks like they’re setting up a slalom course to slow any speeding vehicles.”
“No moss growing on the Provost or the base engineers, that’s for sure; the Jackson Road Gate off Route 2 will present a challenge.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they closed that gate and blocked the off-ramp today.”
“No argument there. Tom, my in-laws were supposed to fly today.” Jeff heard Tom inhale sharply. “They’re safe; I’ve already spoken with Keiko’s father. I’ll be in early today but not until Hiro and Mayumi get home; Keiko’s pretty shaken.”
“I can’t picture your wife ‘shaken.’ We’ll be fine here until your family is taken care of.”
The sound of a second, incoming call sounded in Jeff’s ear; he recognized the number. “Tom, it’s the paramedic program coordinator for Quinapoxet College on the other line.”
“Good luck,” Tom offered with a mirthless chuckle. “Call me back when you can.”
“Thanks,” Jeff grumbled back. He ended the call to DMD and picked up the other. “This is Jeff Knox.”
“Jeff, it’s Sharon Jessup.”
The nasal tones of QC’s paramedic program coordinator grated on his raw nerves; normally he could handle speaking to her, but today was anything but normal. “Hi, Sharon. What can I do for you today?”
“Bill Jefferson, Mya Short, and Amy Franklin have all called me within the past half-hour to say their ride time for today has been cancelled! They said they’ve been asked to leave your stations and all student ride time is on hold until further notice! What the hell’s going on?”
The rage he’d let slip from him returned while Sharon was ranting; it had a negative effect on his verbal filters. “Well, Sharon, terrorists have stolen at least three commercial airliners this morning, flown them into three separate buildings, likely killing hundreds or thousands of Americans and God knows how many people from other countries, knocked down one building which was one hundred ten stories tall, and have thrown an entire country of three hundred million people into a state of near-panic! One of those three hundred million people happens to be my wife! Her parents were supposed to fly today! Why don’t you tell me what the bloody hell’s going on?”
“That’s right! You don’t know what the Christ is going on any more than I do, so you’ll excuse me if I think about the safety of the people I love here at home and the ones I work with at DMD, first! I don’t even know if my Fort Devens unit will be allowed to stay on-post yet or be asked to leave. Your students may be needed at their full-time jobs or in the towns they work for today; let’s pray they’re not.
“Until you hear from me directly, Sharon, no students will be riding at DMD until at least next week. If by chance there isn’t an invasion going on we will likely welcome your students back at that time. Notice of a fourth aircraft down is scrolling across my television now; if this isn’t the End Times, I will speak to you later.” He thumbed the phone off; cellphones robbed one of the ability to slam a receiver down and end a call with emphasis.
Jeff turned the TV off again. He dropped onto the couch and scrubbed his face with his hands; he leaned back and sighed, allowing his head to drop back. When he opened his eyes, the image of his wife smiling down greeted him. She ran her fingers through his short, black hair.
“I’m used to seeing you upside-down when you fling me through the air at the dojo, but this is a little strange,” Jeff said in Japanese. As a fourth-dan black belt in karate Keiko often got the better of Jeff, a second-dan, when they sparred.
“No less strange than you, husband,” she replied in the same language, bending down to kiss his forehead. Keiko’s brother taught Jeff Japanese when they were roommates in the 82d Airborne after high school; Ken was killed in action during the Gulf War.
“You spoke with your parents, I imagine?”
“Yes, Alexander brought me the phone, as you know; thank you for sending him upstairs. My parents will return to their residence, leave their luggage there, and come here.”
“I’ll have to go in early tonight but I’ll wait until they arrive before I get ready to leave.” Jeff waved for her to join him on the couch, which she did. Rather than lean back into him, Keiko faced him and pulled herself into a hug. “How are you doing, Keiko-chan?” Jeff stroked her long black hair.
“Better, as always, when you do that. What we saw on the television earlier? Is that all that has occurred?”
“No.” He offered no elaboration; she asked for none.
“With whom were you speaking? Someone from work?”
“‘With whom were you speaking?’ I think your English teacher is showing.” She poked him in the ribs. “That was the person who runs one of the programs where our paramedic students come from; she’s a little upset Tom Stratton sent three of hers home early today.”
“With everything that is going on today? One would think she would understand in this situation.”
“One would think, yes; I think we can give her a pass on that today, though. I hope things don’t get any worse.”
“Jeffrey, why is one of your pistols on the couch?”
“Because it’s too heavy to clip to my belt.” Another poke. “My emotions are all over the place today; I suddenly felt the need to arm myself.”
“You will not be bringing the firearm to work though, correct?”
“You know the Commonwealth’s EMS office doesn’t allow us to carry weapons on the ambulance; bringing them onto the base, especially today, would be a bad idea, too. Alex asked me why you were upset, Keiko; I tried to tell him as gently as I could.” Jeff relayed their conversation.
“He told me, beloved; you handled the subject perfectly. I do not believe Ryan or Sabrina understood what was on the television earlier, thankfully. We will not need to discuss this with them today though that day will come. Alexander is reading a book in our room for now.”
The couple remained on the couch together, finding comfort in each other’s arms; the sound of Keiko’s soft snores eventually reached his ears. He tried to get his thoughts under control while he held her.
The ringing of the home phone startled Keiko from her slumber. Glancing at the Caller ID screen on the cordless phone, she answered the call from her gynecologist’s office. From her side of the conversation, Jeff gathered that Keiko’s appointment for today had just been cancelled.
“They cancelled your appointment?” he asked when she hung up.
“Yes. They have already had others call to cancel this morning and ... Donna’s sister is believed to have been on one of the planes which crashed in New York.” Donna Aitchison ran the office for Dr. Marie Nuno. Jeff hugged Keiko tighter when he heard that news.
Part of Jeff wanted to turn the television back on to learn what else had happened; he decided to continue holding Keiko instead. There’d be plenty of time for more bad news later.
Edited by Graybyrd