Prologue to a novel I am almost finished writing
New York City, September 11, 2001
It was a beautiful late summer morning in New York City, the kind of morning when even the most cantankerous among us couldn't help but to close their eyes and drink in the suns radiance before it faded into the cooling breezes of autumn. With a spike of higher-than- average temperatures, almost everyone had been taking advantage of the dog days of summer. Even at 6:30 in the morning people were everywhere. The streets were bustling with girls in short skirts sipping their lattes, children laughing on their way to school, men in suits, and an odd assortment of characters unique to New York City. This was, after all, the city that never sleeps, so Beth wasn't too surprised to see the streets crowded this early.
Elizabeth Gregory was a financial analyst with one of the keenest minds in the financial world. Working freelance for most of her career, she had been employed by almost every multi-national corporation known to man at one time or another. Whether they were looking for a tax shelter or ways to offset their massive expense accounts, she was expert at keeping their money out of the outstretched hands of Uncle Sam.
Stuck in traffic, she was getting impatient. “Can't you go any faster?” she asked her cab driver, knowing the answer before she asked it. Her cabbie recognized people like her immediately--they were everywhere in New York City. Rushing around. Always late. Always stressed.
With dreadlocks partially obscuring his face, he turned his head to face hers. “Nah, miss, dis cah ain't goin' nuh weh',” he said as he faced forward again and pointed ahead at the mass of vehicles in front of him.
Damn, why today? Traffic in this city is such a nightmare...
The towers were clearly visible, they were so close--just a few blocks away. All she had to do was get there. A seemingly impossible feat of engineering, they were an architectural behemoth that overshadowed everything in the city. The prima donnas of skyscrapers, the twin towers of the World Trade Center may have been the biggest, but they lacked the esthetic qualities of many other skyscrapers in the city--notably the Empire State Building. But that wasn't a fault of the towers themselves. It was their generation. Gone were the elegant Art Deco stylings of the '20's and '30's; the towers were a prime example of the structural expressionism popular in the '70's. They were high tech. They were functional. They were huge--they were not beautiful.
Deciding on an alternate route, Beth pulled a 20 dollar bill out of her purse and handed it through the partition to her driver. “Here, keep the change. I'm going to get out here and walk the rest of the way.” Without waiting for a reply, she stepped out onto street with the faint echo of her driver's gratitude wafting in her ears. This wasn't the first time she had gotten out of a cab before reaching her destination. Patience--like her fashion sense--wasn't one of her strongest characteristics. Luckily, her flats and her long stride made it easy for her to navigate the busy sidewalks.
Beth was 40 years old, almost 6 ft. tall, willowy, and rarely wore heels unless she felt it absolutely necessary. According to her, that was almost never. Heels weren't conducive to her way of thinking. In her way of thinking, they were a form of slavery, much like ties were nooses around the necks of the slaves that wore them. Almost everyone was a slave. They just didn't know it yet. Beth wanted to change all that.
It took less than ten minutes for her to reach Fulton Street and the entrance to the North tower of the World Trade Center. Without wasting a moment, she entered the lobby and couldn't help but to appreciate the visual contrast between the bright and colorful banners on display in the lobby, and the grey and sombre monochromatic exterior of the building. It made the lobby, in all its simplicity, seem much more appealing.
Heading straight towards the security desk, she tried to get the attention of the older, slightly paunchy security guard who was talking on the phone. “Excuse me, do you have a key for me? My name is Candace Morgan, and I leased an office on the 103rd floor for today. The agent told me I could pick up the key here.”
Putting his hand over the receiver, he said in a not-too-friendly voice, “Just a minute ma'am, I'll be right with you.”
Impatiently, Beth tapped her finger on the counter as she waited for him to finish his conversation. Repeating herself, he answered, “Let me check. Just a minute.” After searching his computer database, he unlocked a drawer and pulled out a key while his printer trilled out an invoice. “I need to see your ID.”
Beth pulled out the fake ID she had in her wallet and handed it to him. “Here you go.”
Satisfied, he reached for the paper coming off the printer and handed it and her ID back to her saying, “Sign this please.” After signing it, he handed her the keys. “It's office 9907. Take the elevators behind you. It's just down the hall and to the left.” As he filed the invoice in a drawer, he said, “Bring the key back before 6 pm or you will be charged for another day.” Turning his back to her, he reached for the phone again and dialed another number. I guess he's not a morning person. C'est la vie.
Taking the keys, she headed to the bank of express elevators behind her. There weren't many people waiting at this hour, and it took no time at all for the elevator to arrive. God I hate these things. Beth was somewhat claustrophobic, and elevators were not her favorite mode of transportation. Living in New York City however, forced her to face her fears. She wasn't about to walk up 99 flights of stairs. She would endure the distressing confinement of the express elevator for least 10 minutes; then when she reached the sky lobby, she would be able to take the stairs to get to her floor.
Beth chose the tower to hold the meeting because she was familiar with it. Moreover, holding a meeting in the clouds gave her more of a sense of security than using an office building within sniper distance. In preparation for the meeting, a catering company was scheduled to deliver their breakfast in half an hour, and a security firm was meeting her in an hour to sweep the offices for any recording devices--she wasn't about to take any unnecessary chances.
She had leased this space under the name of a shell company she had created which led to another shell company that could never be traced back to her. She'd made sure of that. She'd left her business cell at home, but did carry an untraceable burner phone. Typically, she and her husband Ben carried burners to communicate with each other--which were regularly replaced. She had no computer with her either. She didn't need one. Nothing that transpired at this meeting would be recorded. Nothing could be traced. Everything would be remembered. Everyone coming to the meeting carried fake ID's and would be arriving in disguises. Nothing would be left to chance. Hers was a long black wig and brown contact lenses which obscured her shoulder length auburn hair and emerald eyes.
Beth was a Watcher and part of a world-wide alliance known as the Association. In addition to Watchers, the Association's members also consisted of Implementers and Planners. Together, they focused on changing the world, and that was the primary focus of this meeting. Almost all members of the Association were scheduled to attend, and Beth would be expecting them at 8 am sharp.
After the hired help had come and gone, she surveyed the room. The room itself was huge--it had once been a call center and had held multiple cubicles, which were now long gone. It their place stood two giant conference tables that could seat twenty-five people each, with fifty soft black leather chairs gathered around them. A dais stood in front of the tables, with two more black chairs to the left. Fresh fruit, croissants, muffins, juice, hot coffee and tea were laid out on an elegantly outlayed table with a centerpiece of red roses, waiting to be consumed by her eagerly anticipated guests. She was satisfied. Ready or not...
Her heart was thumping wildly in her chest as the time grew nearer for their arrival. How would they react? So much had led to this meeting and now it was time to organize and present their progress reports. She and Ben were confident the Association would be able to implement the Agenda within the next year. They both hoped the other members of the Association would come to the same conclusions they had, but nothing was written in stone. It had to be a consensus before any final plans were made.
As her guests began arriving, their identities were confirmed by a portable retinal scanner she had brought with her before she greeted them and directed them towards the morning repast set out against the back wall. Looking intermittently at the gold watch on her wrist that Ben had given her on her 35th birthday, she was getting worried. He had gone to an early morning meeting at the university and hadn't contacted her since. Trying his burner cell, he answered at the first ring.
“Where are you?” she whispered into her phone.
“Sorry honey, I just got out of there. They kept me for some ridiculous security orientation, and I was told I couldn't return to work without completing it. I'm going to get there as fast as I possibly can. Try to appease the masses until I get there. Maybe tell a few jokes.”
Beth had to laugh. It was an inside joke. They both knew she had a sense of humor only few could appreciate. “Ok, Ben, I'll try to hold them off. Talk to you soon. I love you.”
“Love you too, sweetheart.” Hanging up, Beth couldn't help but to feel a little less anxious. Ben seemed to have that affect on her. He was an integral part of the Association and its Agenda, and this meeting would never have taken place without his efforts. All that was left to do now was finalized the planning stages and implementation. Ben's contribution to the Agenda was, for the most part, complete, so she knew it wasn't imperative that they both attend. Still, Beth wanted his support at the meeting--if only to calm her nerves.
Having had their fill of breakfast, her guests were already seated and continuing to make small talk as they waited for the meeting to begin. Ignoring a distant thunder in the background, Beth stepped up to the dais a few minutes late to announce Ben would be arriving soon, and perhaps lighten the mood with some of her 'jokes' until he arrived. While she was recalling some of her favorite jokes in her head, a male voice interrupted her. “Oh my God, why is that plane so close?” They all turned to look out the windows to see what he was talking about. In front of them, a passenger jet was less than half a mile away and appeared to be headed directly towards them; its wingspan already stretching the expanse of the floor-to-ceiling windows.
What the hell?? Without hesitation, Beth yelled, “Everyone move!! Head for the stairs. We've got to leave--now!!” Simultaneously, they got up and headed for the doors--but to no avail. A deafening roar hit as glass shattered and hurled towards them like Japanese throwing stars. Blood splattered everywhere as the Association fell--the now flaming passenger jet upon them. It was too late. Her last thoughts were of Ben and her daughter before the flames engulfed her, and her world disappeared forever.