**Here, the reader finds Tom, fresh from another educational experiment, indulging a flashback while headed to New England for Thanksgiving. Ever wonder what Tom did on the morning of 9/11/2001? Read on.**
A Date and a Plot
Driving away from Hammond that Tuesday afternoon, Tom shook his head. A popcorn riot! Kids will be kids. They do unruly things. But, with all that had happened at Eisenhower, every time he’d been there, he decided that was one school he would take off his list. He did that as soon as he was home – the first alteration he’d made to his availability in A.S.S.’s system. It wouldn’t be the last. Later, he ate at Lyon’s and tried a new holiday porter as recommended by two prettier members of the staff. He ended up drinking several of them. Once home again, he thought about testing out his new fire pit but decided against it due to his travel schedule the next day. But, he did have one last round before bed.
The following morning, while he sipped coffee and almost regretted the last round, he noticed something out the window. The dreary November clouds parted just at the right moment, opening a vast swath of earth and water below the American Airlines flight as it cruised North towards New England. He looked down and beheld lower Manhattan, a good stretch of the whole Island, and parts of the surrounding Boroughs. As he stared at One Freedom Tower, his mind returned to another day, years before.
McLean, Virginia, September 11, 2001, 8:35 AM…
‘I hope there’s a cute turtle in here!’ Vicky exclaimed while clutching her little box of animal crackers to her chest. She loved both the snack and the slower armored reptile. And, she really loved her Daddy. ‘Will YOU AND mommy come get me before you get Traaaay?? I wanna be first!’
Still down on one knee, Tom tried to look concerned. ‘We’re supposed to pick up both of you? I thought we just picked one and the other spent the night…’ The turtle-loving first grader wasn’t buying it this morning, instead giving Tom a squinty-eyed pouty face. ‘Alright! We’ll BOTH come get one of you and then the other. Maybe we can eat out tonight. Somewhere fun. Speaking of … looks like you need to get back in there, bunny.’
Dangling the turtles and other animals by the little string handle, she gave him a big parting hug. ‘Love you, Dabby!’
‘Ruv you too, baby doll.’
Tom rose and watched her skip away to a table where gathered some other little girls proudly wearing the uniforms of the Academy of Saint Mary. He bid Ms. Flaxon a good morning and made his way to the front doors, waving and nodding to a few nuns on the way out. Down the steps and across the front lawn, he almost bounded towards the parking lot. He’d just returned the night before from another overseas junket that lasted (as usual) a little longer than planned. Tonight would be fun family time; today was a chance to spend precious time with his bride. Or, it would have been.
About the time he reached his aging, ailing Rover Defender, his belt and side began to vibrate as if his work pager vehemently objected to his plans. He stopped mid-entry, with one foot still on the ground and checked. Despite his line of work, there was no expecting what he saw:
!!! CD BLK ATTACK WAR !!!
!!! HUNTRESS SCRAM F15 NYC !!!
!!! GIANTKILLER RELAY EADS !!!
!!! NCS RPT LANGLEY !!!
As he raced towards CIA Headquarters, he tried a talk radio station. Some newsman was laughing about the time a World War Two-era bomber accidentally flew into the Empire State Building. This wasn’t an accident! You guys will know soon. Just as he switched off the dial, his phone started ringing. He let it ring. He had traffic laws to break.
Ten minutes later he ran into a situation room, already crowded with officers, analysts, assistant directors, and several men in military uniforms, mostly Army. They were whispering if they even talked. All eyes were on the largest of screens in that room which, from the looks of it, could have launched the Space Shuttle. He joined them in time to see the second plane strike. Reports buzzed about the Pentagon. The FAA ceded aerial control to NORAD. Another screen, live from a satellite, computer-highlighted fighters as they assumed Combat Air Patrol over America’s East Coast. The President was moving. The Capitol was evacuating. South Tower collapsed. North Tower followed. A shocked world watched equally stunned media figures stumble through the reports.
His shock gave way to anger. He recalled, vividly, his meeting, little more than a month earlier, at the White House – his first with President Bush. He’d read aloud the footnotes to his April report on Serbia. He was one of the bold who warned of an imminent attack on the Nation. He had stared in disbelief as, first one and then another, idiot neocon rebuffed his advice. Who were these people? Bin Laden was not bluffing to cover for Saddam. There was no need to bomb Iraq again. Shit, the targets are HERE now! He’d lost it on two of the loudest chickenhawks. And, he almost lost his job as a result. He would have but for a certain respect from the Deputy Director and that, for his faults, Bush seemed to know the value of at least one dissenter. They let him stick around but they didn’t take his advice. Now, this!
Many voices spoke to or at him simultaneously. The Director had found him and was instructing him to ready a direct action team for deployment, probably to Afghanistan, and probably that night.
Does that mean, “you were right?” ‘Roger that. I need to get the…’
‘They’re saying Tower Seven is going to fall too!’ The Director’s assistant of something had found her boss, and Tom, and broke in. She seemed terrified.
Tom looked at both of them with a grim, set face. ‘Who are they? And, how do they know?’
That afternoon, Elizabeth picked up the kids by herself. Tom went, not to the Middle East (not yet) but to Tampa so he could escort a band of Saudis out of the country. When no-one else could fly. Almost no-one. His rival teams were busy shuttling Israelis and others back to their homes, some of them being hastily released from custody for the trip. The rest is muddled, forgotten, and covered-up history.
Derry, New Hampshire, Thanksgiving Eve, Late…
Tom, Larry, Darla, Trey, and Romona sat around Larry’s kitchen table, enjoying drinks and conversation. Everyone had been anxious to probe into Tom’s progress with the schools. His answers, while entertaining, didn’t necessarily inspire confidence – at least not in his own self-critical mind.
Trey kept the process in motion. ‘Sounds like you’re learning a lot, Dad. Do you think you like teaching at that, at those levels?’
Tom had been thinking the same thing lately. He was learning, though not everything he learned made him happy. Things were bad, terminally-bad even, but he still wanted to help. The question was, did anyone else want help? He had a strange feeling that, just as his predictions and assessments were ignored before 9/11, so now they would be dismissed by the academy. He answered, ‘The Curse of Cassandra.’
‘The curse of who, now?’ Romona inquired.
The Substitute is coming…