“Holy fuck!” Cindi gasped when a large passenger plane hit the second tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. “This HAS to be intentional!”
There was no doubt in my mind that she was right. The plane was large, and in the hazy video, it appeared to me to be a Boeing, probably a 767, though I couldn’t be sure. And that meant passengers, potentially a lot of them. It also meant commandeered aircraft.
“Passenger planes,” I replied. “I can’t imagine anything other than hijacking.”
“Holy shit!” Elyse exclaimed. “What if there are more planes?”
“The ‘Bojinka’ plot included eleven aircraft,” I said. “Not to mention a plan to kill Pope John Paul II and crash a plane into CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.”
“You think this is the same guys?” Dave asked.
“Well, Ramzi Yousef was arrested not long after the plot was discovered and he’s in SuperMax now for the first World Trade Center bombing. They never did catch Khalid Sheikh Muhammad.”
“The Sears Tower is really close,” Kimmy said quietly.
“Let’s not panic,” I replied. “Kimmy, please get the TV from the Gretzky Room and bring it in here so we can have on both CNN and one of the other networks.”
“I’ll help you, Kimmy,” Dave offered.
They left and were back a minute later, wheeling in the TV. About a minute after that, we had on both CNN and Fox News, and Jon Scott suggested Osama bin Laden, a Saudi national who had conducted or financed a number of terrorist bombings in the Middle East and Africa, might be behind the attacks. A very short time later, it was reported that the AP had stated that they had information the planes were hijacked before the crashes.
“No shit!” Cindi exclaimed. “That was pretty fucking obvious when TWO planes hit!”
It came as no surprise when both networks reported that the FAA had closed the New York airports and restricted flights in the Northeast, and that New York City was closing all bridges and tunnels into Manhattan. Most of the staff had gathered in the room, and it was becoming crowded, and it was obvious that many of them were very worried, and with very good reason.
“I should check on Abel,” Cèlia said. “He was supposed to be in Midtown today.”
She went over to the phone and used the directory to dial Abel’s cell phone, leaving the call on speaker. I wasn’t surprised when she received an ‘All circuits are busy’ message.
“Is anyone else in New York?” Elyse asked.
I nodded, “My friend Ailea. She was meeting with Cantor Fitzgerald this week.”
“I know you’re concerned about her, but I meant NIKA staff. Cindi, Charlie?”
“No plans for anyone to be in New York today,” Cindi replied. “But we don’t know where those flights originated.”
“A few of my people in the Western region were traveling today,” Charlie said. “There’s no way they could be on those planes.”
“Oh, fuck!” Elyse exclaimed when both CNN and Fox showed pictures of the Pentagon burning.
“We need to invoke our disaster plan, and as Stephanie isn’t here, I’m invoking it on my emergency authority,” I said firmly. “First, I’ll say what should be blindingly obvious - nobody should get on a plane, period. Cindi, call Barbara and Mario and tell them; Charlie, call whoever was supposed to be traveling and tell them to stay put!”
They both left the room and my mobile phone rang. I fished it from my pocket, saw it was Jessica, and answered.
“Hi, Babe,” I said. “I’m a bit busy right now.”
“We just started our major disaster protocol. Somebody needs to get the kids! I can’t leave and I can’t get hold of Kara!”
“The kids are safe in school,” I said.
“You don’t know that!” Jessica exclaimed franticly. “Please!”
There was no way I wanted to leave the office until I was sure my staff was safe, and I was sure the kids would be fine, but I also knew Jessica would become increasingly frantic.
“I’ll ask Terry and Penny to get them,” I said. “They’re on the ‘pick-up list’.”
“Tiger!” she pleaded.
“Jess,” I said patiently. “They’re safe. Penny and Terry will get them, and I’ll make sure the rest of my staff is taken care of. And I’ll find Kara.”
“How can you be so calm?” Jessica complained.
“Jessica Lee,” I said firmly. “You’re an Attending Physician at one of the most prestigious hospitals in the world! Your patients need you!”
“So do my kids!” she declared angrily.
“Jess, I’ll take care of it, OK?”
“I’ll just do it myself!” she declared.
She was irrational and nothing I could do or say, short of dropping everything to get my kids from two schools which were just as safe as our house, given the distance from anything I could imagine was a major terror target, would placate her. And if she walked out in the middle of a ‘major disaster’ protocol, someone would raise her history.
“Jess, don’t,” I replied. “You need to follow your major disaster protocol. I’ll go right away.”
“Don’t patronize me, Tiger! You leave NOW!”
“I said I would,” I replied.
She hung up and I snapped the phone shut. I motioned Elyse, Kimmy, and Eve to me and we moved to a corner of the room.
“Jess is completely irrational,” I said. “I need to personally go get the kids from school or she’ll walk out of the ER mid-trauma.”
“I thought she was getting better,” Elyse replied.
“Me, too. But I think everyone is going to be a bit irrational today. Elyse, you’re in charge because my sister isn’t here. Please work with Kimmy to make sure everyone goes home, in every office. We don’t know what the targets might be, so I want everyone out of Chicago, Durham, and Pittsburgh as quickly as possible. And to not go to the offices in Dallas, Colorado Springs, or LA.”
“You think they might hit the Sears Tower?” Eve asked.
“Wouldn’t you?” I replied.
“Yeah. Holy fuck! What do you need me to do?”
“Come with me.”
“Steve!” Dave called out across the room. “They just shut down all US airspace and ordered all planes to land immediately.”
“OK. That solves THAT problem,” I replied. “Dave, I’m asking Elyse to close the office. I need to do something for Jess.”
“OK. I’ll help Elyse.”
Eve and I left the room, and I went to my office to get my things. I wasn’t leaving ‘at once’ despite what I’d told Jessica. I wanted to make three phone calls. The first two would be to the schools to let them know I was coming to get the kids. The third one would be to Al Barton.
“The line is busy,” I said to Eve when I dialed the High School.
“No surprise, right? I suspect there are lots of parents reacting the way Jessica has.”
I tried the elementary school and had the same result, so I tried Al Barton’s office, but received an ‘all circuits busy’ message, most likely because the hospital PBX was overloaded. I tried Al’s mobile number and was directed to his voicemail. I left a message for Al, then grabbed my bag. We went to Eve’s office to get her bag as well, and she strongly suggested I retrieve my pistol from the safe.
“I need Liz’s approval,” I protested.
“Bullshit,” Eve declared. “If planes flying into the World Trade Center and Pentagon don’t constitute an emergency with special circumstances, nothing would.”
She went to the safe in Liz’s office and retrieved my Beretta, holster, and a full magazine. She verified the safety, chambered a round, and handed me the pistol and holster. I put them on, then we headed back to the conference room so I could tell Elyse I was leaving. Just as I was about to leave the room, a collective gasp arose.
“Parts of the tower are collapsing!” Penny exclaimed.
Eve and I turned back to watch the shocking display of large chunks of building falling from the South Tower of the World Trade Center, though everything was quickly obscured by smoke and dust.
“Jesus,” Eve breathed.
“We better go,” I said. “Jess is going to lose her mind.”
“What about Kara?”
“I’ll try her once we get in the car. She’s likely in the lab, and she silences her phone or leaves it in her office when she’s in there.”
Eve and I hurriedly left the building, went around to the alley where our parking spaces were, and got into my BMW. I started the car and Eve immediately tuned the radio to WBBM, the best news station available. As I pulled onto Jackson, Eve used my mobile phone to try to call Kara, but the call went to voicemail. Eve put the phone on speaker so I could leave a message about getting the kids at Jessica’s request. When I finished, Eve snapped the phone shut.
“Holy shit!” I exclaimed when WBBM reported that one of the flights that had crashed into the World Trade Center had left Boston bound for Los Angeles.
“What?” Eve asked.
“Belinda Barton is in Boston, and was supposed to fly to LA today…fuck! And Felipe, a guy from my karate dojo, is in DC at the Pentagon today for a tour! And Brian Frost is there TDY, as well.”
“Yeah. And I just had a very scary thought.”
“If it is Osama bin Laden, then other Saudi nationals might be involved. My neighbor, Amir Khan, is a Saudi national and is in Boston today.”
“That’s a stretch, don’t you think?”
“My mind is going a million miles a minute right now,” I said. “But I recall him telling me that he has a pilot’s license. And I highly doubt any Captain or First Officer on a US commercial flight would intentionally fly into buildings, even under duress. I mean, if the hijackers are trying to force you to do that, you’re going to die anyway. Most of those guys are ex-Navy or ex-Air Force and they’d crash the plane into the ground or a body of water before they’d fly into a building.”
“Fuck! You’re making WAY too much sense.”
The radio reported a fire on the National Mall in DC.
“The White House or Capitol Building had to be the next target, logically,” Eve said. “Sounds like they might have missed.”
“Yeah, you could use the Washington Monument for navigation and hit either one. I wonder where the President is.”
The radio announced that the Sears Tower had been ordered evacuated.
“You made the right call to get everyone out of the office, Boss,” Eve said.
“Call Elyse and make sure she knows. I want everyone out of the office immediately.”
Eve made the call and Elyse confirmed that only she, Dave, and Kimmy were still in the office, and they were just about to leave.
WBBM reported that President Bush was aboard Air Force One, but that his location and destination were not being released.
“They think the attacks are still ongoing,” I said.
“Dave said the FAA ordered all planes to land at their nearest airports,” Eve replied. “That lowers the risk, don’t you think?”
“Lowers, but doesn’t eliminate. There are probably well over a thousand planes in the air right now. Any one of them could have hijackers. We know of four already - the two that hit the World Trade Center, one that they just confirmed hit the Pentagon, and the one that caused the fire on the National Mall. The ‘Bojinka’ plot included eleven aircraft over the Pacific, plus one to hit the CIA. That’s twelve, total.”
“Fuck me!” Eve exclaimed.
“Try Al Barton for me, please.”
She did but the call went to voicemail, so I had her disconnect and not leave a message.
“He’s probably up to his eyeballs in running their ‘major disaster’ drill,” Eve offered.
“And also likely trying to calm Jessica.”
“What’s up with that? She’s a trauma surgeon!”
“And is, if you’ll pardon the indiscretion, irrational about her kids' safety. It’s something we’ve been working on for years.”
“That’s something I would never have expected.”
“Me, neither. But it is what it is.”
WBBM reported that the UN was being evacuated, and the traffic report detailed heavy outbound traffic from Chicago and that Metra had announced it would run additional trains.
“They’ll close the schools,” Eve observed.
“I’m sure. But the problem there is with so many parents working, they have to be careful about sending elementary school kids home. My kids would be fine, and I’d be fine with it, but you know a lot of kids and a lot of parents wouldn’t.”
“I learned to shoot when I was five!” Eve declared. “And I stayed home alone all the time from about age six!”
“I know. Even my mom, as insane as she was, was OK with us roaming the desert when I was in first grade, and the neighborhood when I was in second grade, and I remember staying home alone a few times even at that age.”
WBBM reported that part of the Pentagon had collapsed. And that an explosion had occurred at the US Capitol.
“Fuck,” I said softly. “This is an all-out assault. It has to be state-sponsored.”
“And an act of war!”
“No shit! I mean, seriously, we’ve heard three times now it might be Osama bin Laden, but I don’t care how good of a mastermind he is, you don’t go hijacking at least five planes, in a coordinated manner, without state sponsorship!”
“God help them if they had a hand in it,” I declared.
Just as we pulled up to the elementary school, WBBM reported that PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat had denied any part in the hijackings, then the announcer immediately read an AP report which said that a car bomb had exploded outside the State Department.
“Let’s get the kids,” I declared, feeling as if the world was coming completely unglued.
I found a place I could park, though it was marked ‘No Parking during school hours’. I simply didn’t, care so I pulled into the spot. WBBM reported that 1010 WINS in New York had reported an explosion at the Supreme Court.
“There’s going to be a war,” Eve said as we got out of my BMW.