(this scene is a flashback to the events of September 11, 2001)
“10-60 has been transmitted for the World Trade Center, 10-60 for the World Trade Center.”
Soon as the planes hit, every FDNY house had sprinted for the Twin Towers. Trucks poured into lower Manhattan, threading through the insanity in the streets. Smoke everywhere. Ash falling. Jumpers. Carnage. Streets muffled under shredded paper, shin-deep. People wandering dazed, covered in grit, stumbling in a thick gray blizzard. Shuffling armies of wage slaves trying to get home, to get to a phone, to get off the fucking island before it sank.
To find the eight engines and five trucks required for a major emergency, dispatch had pulled units from Brooklyn and Queens. Griff’s engine had been one of the first on the scene ’cause they were just over the river. Even after the second plane hit, the crews were hauling ass to get people out safely, to contain the situation. Twenty-five engines, sixteen trucks, probably six battalions. No one expected the Towers to actually come down; a lot of guys had rushed inside trying to get civilians out.
Then—motherfuck—World Trade 2 did exactly that, and then it was worse than anything any of them had ever seen.
Griff had been street level, humping hose into 90 Church Street, when he heard a boom and a strange roar, and then this black cloud slammed through the streets, chasing them. Rubble and paper churning around him, he tried to outrun the pitch dark, but it caught him and threw him through a plateglass window, so he had to crawl blind through the smoldering fog to the rig. Zero visibility on a sunny morning.
The Big Apple lost its mind.
Command was wiped out. Hundreds of men missing. Griff was helping do search and recover with his crew in the subway at Cortlandt Street when he heard Dante’s name on the radio, some emergency call from the site of the north tower before it went too.
Without thinking, Griff called the Anastagios, or tried to—two hours after the crash there was still no cell service, and phone lines were crippled with people wanting answers and people calling their families to say goodbye from inside the wreckage. Still no count of the victims and wounded and what was the point, really? He tried to call his wife, same deal. They were in a bubble down here.
Dante could have been anywhere. Apparently, closer in you could still hear victims trapped beneath the rubble, begging for help. The news stations figured it was World War Three. Nobody knew anything yet. The body count might be as high as 20,000; the whole city scrabbled to get a straight answer.
Griff just put one foot in front of the other and tried to save a few folks, letting the eyewash stations clean his soot-caked eyes over and over so he could keep searching. He heard other planes had gone down, in Washington, but it was hard to tell and facts were thin on the ground. Some monster had punched a hole in New York, and hope was draining out of it into the river. Here he was, trying to find one person in the thick of it, feeling as blind and dumb and useless as anyone. Some fucking hero.
Griff picked his way in as close as he could to the Pit to keep an eye out. World Trade Center 7 collapsed in the early evening. Praying he’d hear Dante’s name again from someone down here, he worked with the crews that whole night like a zombie, his face gray under the ash. Everyone choking on the smell of acetylene torches and worse. Looking for his best friend and helping a few lost souls along the way. Thousands of people searching for family and coworkers who’d literally disappeared into thin air.
Griff cut people out of cars and carried people to the ambulances. He rescued a starved Labrador with a broken leg, trapped in a deli licking milk off the linoleum. He found a pregnant paralegal shuffling barefoot in the powdered concrete, her shoes lost, her eyes lost, and pointed her toward the Bridge so she could walk home to her kids.
No one had seen Dante since that call from the second tower, but Griff kept asking and looking and listening for that one name, day and night and day. Thirty-seven straight hours with no sleep, and then Griff tore his hand open trying to lift a mailbox off a corpse in a $1,600 suit. He didn’t even notice he was bleeding till one of the paramedics was in his face shouting at him.
Shock. He was in shock.
They put him in an ambulance and herded him to one of the emergency tents that had bloomed like miracles around Ground Zero. People groaning and whimpering and choking on the dust. He couldn’t feel anything. Some wetneck resident in scrubs sewed his hand together and told him to go home; instead, he went looking through Hell for Dante.
* * *
It took five hours and most of his sanity.
“Are you family?” The army reserve nurse eyed his pasty skin and bright hair. Her eyes scanned a clipboard quickly. She flipped a page of scrawled notes.
They were walking through the wide, echoing hallways at Bellevue where there seemed to be acres of grimy patients on gurneys squirming slowly like someone had lifted a rock and shone a painful light on grubs. Clusters of weeping, frantic families who thought the world might end at any minute, desperate just to say goodbye and love.
“Brother.” Griff knew he looked insane. His mauled hand itched.
She tapped her notes. “He was pinned in a stairwell, but he dragged himself and his partner out a vent in time. Crazy mofo, sounds like.”
“You have no idea.”
They turned a corner and everything was suddenly okay.
Dante lay curled on his side, his black hair dusty and the top half of his face livid with bruises and long scratches. The paramedics had cut him out of his clothes, and the gown was bunched over his sooty hip. Dante’s eyes and hands twitched, dreaming. His curved lips seemed too red and too dark, like a tattoo of a mouth. He coughed in his sleep, and somehow it was Dante’s voice coughing, even from across the room.
Griff would’ve known it anywhere, and he almost pissed his pants he was so relieved, choking on lungfuls of air as he went to his best friend.
Dit-dit-dit. The nurse’s pager went off, and she headed back into the groaning sea of gurneys in the vast hallway; she didn’t even look at Griff, and he wouldn’t have noticed if she had. Griff’s strong legs suddenly gave out, and he went down on a knee by the thin cot.
Thank you, God. Thank you, God.
He wished Dante would make another sound, any sound. He leaned over that tired face just to hear him breathing, the exact music of Dante’s breath. Kneeling so close, he wanted to put his dusty ear to his friend’s chest to hear the miraculous lub-dub of Dante still living.
You asshole. Had to be a fuckin’ hero—
Griff’s blunt fingers fumbled over Dante’s wrist and took his rough hand. Suddenly he knew New York was gonna be okay. They were all going to survive.
Dante shifted a little, just barely squeezed back, and made one of those comfortable grunts in the back of his throat. Like someone had made a joke in his dream and he was gonna start laughing.
Griff’s bright hair stood on end and his heart was suddenly too huge and too hot for his ribs, beating against its cage.
- Plip -
Something wet fell on their linked knuckles making the ash and grit run and Griff realized that he was crying-crying-crying and he didn’t know how to stop it felt so good to let the tears slide free and clean… the acid draining out of his head so it could stop burning. His mouth open and weeping ’cause a hole had been punched in him. Big gulps of disinfected air and his thick right knee bouncing with the last of his nerves. He couldn’t make himself stand up.
He raised his other hand to smooth Dante’s ragged, matted hair so he could see and then froze, because who knew what kind of injuries there might be. He couldn’t move, his stitched, pale hand hovering over Dante’s olive forehead, over the eyelashes inky soft against his cheek.
Griff watched his torn hand pull back slowly, like it belonged to a stranger. Would they let him stay? He was in shock, right? He had a right to be in the hospital. If the doctors wanted to move him, they could fuck off. He stiffened like a feral dog guarding pups.
Dante squeezed his fingers again, just barely, like a dream.
The relief was so sharp it made him gasp.
Nose running, Griff used his free hand to fish out his cell and dial the Anastagios so they could cry and shout and pass the phone around in relief; then he remembered that there was no signal, that it was just them there then, alone together, that he couldn’t reach anyone anywhere—so he told God instead.
Excerpted from HOT HEAD,
Published by Dreamspinner Press
Copyright 2010. Damon Suede. All Rights Reserved.