A Glass, and Darkly
Chapter 2: A Brave New World
11 September 2001 – Lancaster, Shirley, and Ayer, Massachusetts
Mayumi and Hiro Takahashi arrived at the Knox house around one in the afternoon, drawing a flood of relieved tears from their daughter; Alex was misty-eyed himself when he hugged his grandparents. Ryan and Sabrina were still unaware of the day’s events, which Jeff was thankful for, but he knew that wouldn’t last. After three or so hours of visiting with his in-laws Jeff got ready for work.
He drove the DMD SUV through the eerily empty streets of Lancaster. At 4:30 in the afternoon on a warm, late summer’s day, there should have been scores of kids running across the lawns at the schools in town, playing on playgrounds or in the yards of the houses he passed, but they were all empty. No customers lined up outside the ice cream stand on Route 70. Only a few cars shared the road with him; without them he’d have thought he was in some post-apocalyptic movie.
“Operations, you can show Sierra One on the air and available,” Jeff called over the radio once on Route 2.
“Roger, Sierra One,” was the brief response. When dispatch said nothing else, Jeff sighed in relief; no news was good news today.
The same, however, could not be said of the news from New York and around the nation; there was plenty of it. After three earlier planes struck the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, a fourth hijacking ended in a passenger uprising. That group of hijackers was stopped before they reached their objective; the plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Everyone on board was killed.
Rest easy, ladies and gentlemen, Jeff thought to the brave passengers. Rest easy.
There were reports of three additional hijacking attempts in the Soviet Union. From the reports an apparent coordination problem kept those attempts from starting until well after the ones in the US, and the Soviets were on-guard. They placed special Interior Ministry troops on flights as soon as news of the New York attacks broke; takeovers on the three flights were thwarted by ‘direct action.’ Like the US, the USSR ordered a halt to all non-military air travel within their borders after those incidents.
Jeff arrived at DMD’s headquarters in Shirley less than twenty minutes after leaving his house; he backed his truck into the small garage and closed the overhead door. He swiped his company ID badge through the card reader by one of the doors leading out of the garage. Card access systems and magnetic locks were new and expensive but on a day like today he felt they were worth the expense. Once inside he noticed the closed, card reader-secured section doors, which compartmentalized the base. Emergency routes out of the building wouldn’t require ID cards. Jeff entered the reception area; he was surprised to see everyone still in their offices along the way.
“Abby, have there been many calls or visitors today?” he asked Abby Sheerer, the young woman in charge of greeting visitors.
“Go ahead and start packing up, then; no sense staying until five today if it’s been like that. I’ll send everyone else home to their families early, with pay of course. Is everyone accounted for?”
Abby blinked at him for a few seconds before answering. “Oh, yes, sorry! No losses among staff at either division; we got lucky today.”
“Let’s hope our luck holds,” he muttered. Jeff walked back through the admin wing and let everyone know they were free to go home early if they wished. Everybody took him up on his offer. After making sure the front entrance was secure, Jeff made his way to the dispatch office. Jeff’s supervisory badge allowed him access to Communications. Heads turned when the door’s lock snapped open and he entered.
“You guys don’t have the TV on?” Jeff asked in surprise.
“No,” Sheila Klaussner answered. “It was the same stuff, over and over, so we shut it off a few hours ago.”
Jeff nodded in understanding. “Does anybody need anything? Food? Coffee? A break from the phones?”
“We were talking about ordering out at lunchtime when we were all here yesterday,” Scott Neumeier said, “but with what’s been happening today we ate what we brought for dinner at lunch. I guess we need to start thinking about getting something else for dinner now.” All three dispatchers on duty were working sixteen-hour shifts that day. Jeff was sure none had left their chairs in hours.
“Kris, why don’t you pull out the Food Protocols binder and see which restaurants are open and for how long? When you decide what you want, order it and we’ll send someone to pick it up; DMD’s buying today so splurge if you want to, okay?” ‘Food Protocols’ is EMS humor for ‘menus.’
“I want you guys to, one at a time, get up and go for a walk. Keep your eyes open if you go outside, but get up from those chairs and move around. If you need me, I’ll be in the supervisors’ office talking with Tom.”
“Okay, Boss,” Sheila answered. Jeff nodded and left the room.
He knocked on the doorframe of an office down the hall and its occupant looked up.
“Hey, Tom, how you doing?”
“One hell of a day...” the man sighed while he stretched.
“It’s been that, that’s for sure. Any new news since I talked with you this morning?”
“Yeah, Colonel Lawson managed to get permission from the new Fort Devens Provost Marshal for us to keep P-Four on the base. They’ll be allowed to come and go, so we don’t have to worry about resupply, and our supervisors will be allowed on the base. We’ve all been through the background checks to get access to the base so it’s not much of an issue. I wouldn’t be surprised if the MPs ask to search our vehicles, though.”
“Me, either. I told Sheila, Scott, and Kris to order something for dinner, that we’d pay for it, and have it picked up. I also told them to each get up and take a walk; I don’t think the three of them have left the dispatch office all day.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me if they hadn’t,” Tom muttered. “I dropped the ball when it came to them today, Jeff. I left them to fend for themselves while I ran around checking on things in the field.” Tom sounded embarrassed.
“They would have been fine if they needed something; it’s not like they don’t know how to figure stuff out.”
“True,” Tom admitted.
“Will you arrange pick up for whatever they order, Tom? I want to head over to the base for shift change and I need to check in with the other crews.”
“Sure, no problem. I’ll pick it up myself.”
“Thanks. I’ll grab some money out of petty cash to pay for whatever you guys want to order before I leave. Call dispatch and tell them you’re ordering something, too.”
“Thanks, Jeff. I appreciate it.”
“You all deserve it after a day like today. I’ll have to figure out how to say ‘thank you’ to everyone who worked today. I’ll be right back.”
Jeff left DMD’s headquarters five minutes later headed for the Fort Devens main gate. He wove around the newly placed Jersey barriers meant to slow vehicles approaching from Ayer’s Old West Main Street. The MPs no longer wore their polished helmets and pressed Class-B uniforms; this afternoon they wore full combat gear complete with flak vests and M-4 rifles. An armed Humvee parked well behind the gate backed them up; another MP manned its roof-mounted M-60 machine gun. The heavy gate security made him uncomfortable. He preferred being behind the guns not in front of them, especially when unarmed.
“Good afternoon, sir,” one of the specialists at the gate said.
“Specialist Kreiger, good afternoon.” Jeff handed over his base access card.
“What is the purpose of your visit today, sir?”
Jeff looked at the young man who cleared him through the gates at Devens numerous times; the friendly smile he remembered was absent today. “I’m headed to the fire station to check on my paramedics.”
Kreiger’s partner gave him a thumbs-up to say the SUV was clear; he’d just checked the vehicle’s undercarriage with a mirror. Kreiger handed back Jeff’s ID and waved him through the gate without another word.
As quiet as the surrounding towns looked on his way to work, Fort Devens looked like an angry ant colony. Truckloads of troops and engineering equipment streamed north on MacArthur Avenue while he headed south to the fire station. More trucks could be seen leaving the Vicksburg Square barracks heading west; he assumed they carried troops to relieve those reinforcing the other gates.
The terrorists are already changing how we live, he thought.
Jeff walked into the fire station. He chatted with the Army’s firefighters and the DMD medics before P-Four’s relief began arriving. With no issues to handle there, Jeff left the base and continued east to DMD’s Ayer garage; they’d finally moved into the old fire headquarters on Washington Street in the spring. Jeff chatted with the off-going day shift and greeted the night shift’s Gerry Markbright when he wandered out to check his truck. His greeting to Gerry’s partner, Claire Wallace, died on Jeff’s lips when she entered from the parking lot.
“Claire?” he asked, stepping closer. “Claire, what’s wrong?”
“My little brother,” she sniffed while tears leaked from her eyes. “He was on the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania. He called my parents before they tried to take back the plane. Timmy’s ... Timmy’s dead!”
Jeff gathered Claire in a tight hug and she broke down. The rage he worked so hard at controlling that day returned full-force. He didn’t see red; his vision blacked out completely. Jeff was lucky Claire was crying in his arms or she’d have noticed him shaking in anger. One of the off-going DMD medics saw the look on his face and took a step back. Jeff was able to dial back his emotions after a moment.
“Claire, you didn’t have to come in, not tonight,” he whispered.
She stepped back and wiped her eyes. “I had to, Jeff. I couldn’t spend another minute alone in my apartment. All I’ve been doing today is watching the coverage and speaking with my parents in Florida.”
“If you want to be here you can but I have to be honest with you, if Gerry doesn’t think you’re on your game...”
“I understand, Boss,” she smiled weakly. “I have to try, though. I can’t let them beat me.”
“If you’re sure?” Claire nodded. “Okay. You’ll let me or one of the other supervisors know if you or your family needs anything?”
The other DMD paramedics came over to hug Claire one by one. When Gerry and Claire went to check their truck Jeff walked out to his.
The day shift’s Joe Ernst walked out of the building with Jeff. “I’ve seen a lot of things in my sixteen years on ambulances, Jeff, but I’ve never seen a look of rage like yours.”
“DMD is family, Joe, and the country is my extended family. Those bastards hurt both,” he whispered with anger in his voice. “I told my wife earlier today that I would unleash Hell on Earth if anyone tried to hurt my family. I meant her and the kids at the time, but these terrorist assholes keep pushing; I’d gut one of them with my bare hands right now.” He closed his eyes and blew out a long, slow breath. “I’m trying to keep my rage bottled up while I’m working tonight, but I’ll find a way to vent it tomorrow after a nap. I’ll probably head to the range and unload a few hundred rounds on something.”
“If it’s stupid but it works, it’s not stupid, Joe.”
That night’s shift was routine. Jeff responded into Ayer just before midnight for a rollover at the at Route 110/119 rotary; Claire Wallace crawled inside the upside down car to calm and comfort the entrapped driver while the fire department worked to extricate him. The intoxicated nineteen year-old repeated over and over in those twenty minutes that he was so sorry (and so drunk); the five minutes he’d been alone in the inverted car before someone found him literally scared the piss out of him.
Claire stayed with the driver when they placed him in the back of Ayer’s ambulance. She explained what was going on and kept him from hyperventilating. He was so calm when the police questioned him he told the investigating officer to keep his license when he handed it over:
“I won’t be needing it for a while,” he said.
Jeff followed the crew up to Ayer Community Hospital on the Groton line. He listened to Claire’s report in the ER while he looked around. The normal joking around behind the nurse’s desk was missing; that gave his anger another boost. He later found Claire staring into space in the EMS charting area with her report half-written. She snapped out of her trance and noticed Jeff watching her; she returned his sad smile, sighed, and turned back to her report. Claire will be okay, Jeff thought. I wish I could say the same about myself.
Jeff responded to a fire scene in Harvard next. He noticed that everyone seemed to be over-the-top somber. Many also appeared angry, much like he knew he’d been throughout the day. He knew they weren’t angry at the others on scene, but at the faceless evil that reached out to their country earlier that day.
The Harvard fire was Jeff’s last call of the night. He caught three hours of much-needed sleep curled up on the couch in his office; he packed up his things and put them in his truck before Tom Stratton returned at seven the next morning. Jeff leaned against his SUV while he filled Tom in on the night’s happenings.
Just before 7:30 his cell phone rang; glancing at the number, he saw it was his best friend from his high school class, Jack Jarrett. He excused himself and answered.
“Hey, Jack! How’s it going?” he asked; Jack lived in Prescott, the town northwest of Enfield, Massachusetts where Jeff grew up. Jeff’s smile disappeared when he heard sniffling at the other end of the line. “Jack?”
“Jeff, it’s Kathy,” he heard between sniffles. Kathy Stein-Jarrett was Jack’s girlfriend while the three of them were at the small, private Thompkins School in Enfield; she was now his wife and was due to deliver the Jarretts’ first child in October.
“Kath, what’s wrong? Is the baby okay?”
“The baby’s fine, Jeff. It’s Jack.”
Twenty minutes later Jeff pushed down on the accelerator; the growl of the SUV’s big V8 engine increased while it accelerated the truck into the hillside curves west of Leominster and Fitchburg. The well-tuned engine sped the marked DMD vehicle westbound down Route 2, back to the valley where he grew up.
The Swift River Valley occupied a mythical and magical place in Jeff’s memory. He loved growing up there. He found comfort there when he returned home from the Army. Most of his family still lived in and around the valley; in fact, he was one of only a handful from his generation who didn’t live there. If he and Keiko could commute to Shirley from Enfield in a reasonable amount of time, they’d have built their house there.
Jeff reached the two-lane section of Route 2 in Templeton just over thirty minutes after he left DMD’s Shirley headquarters; he fought not to turn his red lights on when the car in front of him forced him to slow to fifty-five miles an hour. The SUV’s tires squealed when he sped into the exit for US Route 202 at close to forty.
Prescott, Massachusetts was still a popular place to live for physicians working at Greenwich Valley Medical Center in neighboring Greenwich; Jack bought and renovated his house after moving back from his residency in Dallas. Jeff knew from previous visits the Jarretts enjoyed fabulous sunrise views from their back deck.
Kathy Stein-Jarrett opened the front door of the huge 1940s home on Prescott Ridge when Jeff pulled into the driveway; when he approached, her puffy and red-rimmed eyes told Jeff she’d been crying. She began sobbing again when her long-time friend hugged her. Jeff guided Kathy into her foyer and closed the door behind him, rubbing her back to help calm her.
“Is he still out there?” Jeff asked. Kathy nodded while wiping her tears away. “I think I know how to handle this. Do you have any coffee made?”
“Coffee?” she asked, confused at the non sequitur. “Yeah, I made a new pot about a half-hour ago, why?”