Two time zones ahead of Rome rescue workers were just beginning to sift through the ashes as the sun reached its highest peak on a hot afternoon in Iraq. Though the sun was blotted out totally by the black smoke that hovered, the heat only made the stench more unbearable. There was not one area of blacktop nor any semblance of the various colorfully painted symbols of the Jewish star, Hindu wheel, Christian cross, Islam crescent moon and other decorations that had sparkled so in the morning sun. Now all was gray, black and bitter. Earthmovers and bulldozers were lifting massive loads of bodies meshed with metal and dirt into rows of battered dump trucks, many on loan from Iran. Where their destination would be was anyone's guess at this particular moment. Their heavy loads heaved with humanity as the diesel-powered engines revved and chugged. Where would one begin in cleaning up such a massive mass of charred, burnt, decimated, sprayed and splayed flesh? How would one ever identify the remains of nearly one million people?
* * * * * * *
Workers, with dogs trained to search out anything still breathing amid the rubble, went through the motions, gas masks and makeshift material covering their faces to shelter them from the fetor of the scene, from the pea soup haze of black smoke that enveloped a twenty-mile area. If anyone had planned on an autopsy of the bodies, they would have had to get a shovel to sift through the dirt. Few recognizable parts remained from any part of anatomies. That was how devastating the explosion had been.
Dateline: Dallas, November 1, 7:15 a.m.
The impact of the explosion had been thorough but it had left a thud halfway around the world in the plans of Edwin Blix as he sat at his high-tech teak desk in his home office, decorated with the rarest of Oriental art. Drumming his fingers, he waited for the fifth ring.
"Yah, ahh, hello?" A bleary-eyed Vic Van Wess mumbled as he craned his neck to be closer to the phone on his bed stand.
"Why aren't you at the office?" Blix was in his bitter cold fashion.
"Huh, who...? Oh, jeeze." Despite still being half asleep Vic recognized only too well who was on the other end. "24 hours a day ain't in my contract. I got home at 5:30 and it's only...ah, 7:15 now." He had to focus his eyes to see the clock on the opposite bedstand. "Thanks for letting me sleep."
Neglecting any compassion in his voice, Blix inquired, "Has Collier filed a preliminary report from the air?"
Vic wanted to cover for Pat, wanted to hedge his bet, but deceit was not part of Vic's repertoire. "Collier never showed up." Vic's wife Amy was now struggling into her robe, the phone call waking her from a deep sleep and intuitively knowing the predicament her tired husband was in. She knew the way Blix operated and she detested it. Vic would need reinforcements in the likes of a hot steaming cup of coffee. That's where she was heading as Vic held the phone away from his ear to shield the screaming Blix from his eardrum.
"What the hell do you mean he didn't show? It's too late to send him now! Damn you, Vic!"
"Not to worry," Vic tried to assuage this volatile figure on the other end. "Sent Gallagher instead."
"What!?!" Screaming even louder. "Who the hell do you think you are to go over my head?"
Vic had long learned how to deal with Blix: Never cower. "We're in the news business, Blix. We can't play frickin' games with wussies that don't show! Gallagher's solid. I can vouch for..."
"Gallagher's way in over his head," Blix interjected, calming down somewhat.
"He can do it." Assurance was in Vic's voice.
For now Blix was resigned that he'd have to accept the fact Collier baled out. "I want to know his every move."
"Don't worry. He's got the Reflector code. We're in touch."
"And whoooo," in that superior obnoxious tone, Blix asked, "authorized his access to this security?"
"I did" Vic snapped, now sitting on the side of the bed and fully awake.
"I suggest you get back to the office and keep me informed...of everything!" Blix slammed down the receiver.
Vic stared at the wall, peering at nothing in particular for several minutes until Amy broke his stare.
"I take it Blix is on the warpath again, dear."
"Yeah, so what else is new?" Vic sighed.
"Here's your coffee. Do you have to go back to the office so early?"
"Yeah! Lot's happening, hon." How could he tell her about the fear which corroded his gut, a dread that caused an anguish far greater than any physical suffering could be? "My legs," he said as lightly as possible and finished stretching it out fully. "Cold weather always aggravates the steel hardware."
"Dress warmly, dear." That was all she said as she began to busy herself at the small vanity in the antechamber leading to the bathroom. She made no reference to the holocaust of last night, or the constant calls by Blix which had made Vic so edgy, and which seemed to permeate their lives so totally. She'd made a lifelong habit of keeping her thoughts to herself, feeling that Vic heard enough varying viewpoints at the office.
He turned slightly to keep her in view in the mirror, and thought anew how lovely she was. Oh sure, age had added a few inches to her waist, and a few pounds around her hips, and bits of gray streaked her chestnut hair. Still he liked very much what he saw. She was spry, full of life and fun, and the best thing that had ever happened to him. He was satiated with a sudden impulse to rush across the room and take her into his arms. He refrained as the arthritic pain seared down his leg. Tonight, he promised silently, watching her as she ducked out of his sight toward the closet. Despite the wall barrier, his eyes followed as if he could follow her every move with x-ray eyes. But they would not penetrate the mortar and wallpaper. Instead his gaze came to rest on the magnificent painting of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the wall, a present from Ben O'Fallon eight years ago to he and his wife on their 25th Wedding Anniversary. "The devil's got Blix. I know it. Damn him. God, be with Pat. He's going to need all the help You can muster."
Dateline: Over the far regions of the North Atlantic, November 1, 4:30 p.m.
The Lear jet was leaving Iceland below in its wake as it soared toward the upper regions of the rocky fiords of Norway. The sun was coming into view after a blanket of darkness in the far northern realms of the globe. Pat Gallagher was unaware. His head rested against the luxurious padded side, just off the window, his thoughts far away in dreamland.
Running three red lights he had made it to the tarmac at Love Field and within 2 minutes of his arrival Blix's jet was taxiing down the runway and into the dark Texas sky. From there it headed north over the Great Lakes, then the lower regions of Hudson Bay and out over Baffin Island and the massive acreage of Greenland's icy tundra below as he soared over the top of the world. It was amazing these new jets that could carry enough fuel to make it half way around the world in just over half a day without a pit stop. If only cars could get that kind of mileage he mused, as thoughts sped across his weary mind. Yes, he was already weary and yet he knew what lay ahead would make him even more exhausted because of the great unknown. Apprehension ate at his angst.
Despite his need for sleep, it would not cooperate. For two hours he could not doze off, spending an uncomfortable time trying to soothe the emotions boiling within him. He had tried several times to contact Corrie but she had turned off her phone service. She had done so at Pat's own urging so they would have an uninterrupted evening. Those plans had turned to ashes with the sudden events that consumed the night. Pat had downed several stiff drinks inflight in an effort to drown the voice of sensibility that questioned his own uneasiness. Finally the alcohol had accomplished what his self-will could not. Sleep finally came, so precious and he hoarded it this first day of November as he lunged ahead in time.
In place of disturbing memories came visions of Corrie. His cara mia. How beautiful she was as the surrealism of fantasy suffocated reality. Only once when the jet hit an air pocket and the jolt had caused him to stir did the pleasant dream seem to shift. He saw Corrie's face as it had appeared immediately after the awful explosion on TV. He could see the horror leap like candle flames in her brown eyes, the lines of terror transforming on her face into a nightmarish mask. Then her lips moved as if in slow motion, forming soundless words that instinctively, even in an altered state, he knew. He wanted to rush forward to place a firm hand across her mouth so he would not have to see the words forming. But he was powerless to move, helpless to stop the fear that once again welled up in his soul even in his dreams.
"Be careful, Pat," she cried as her image transmorphed towards the image of a banshee being pulled away. "Evil... Death... " And as she drifted farther away, the words grew stronger, "Hell... Beware, Hellllllllll!"
It shook him awake. Looking around for a few seconds, he took a deep sigh, readjusted his body to get more comfortable and was off in slumberland again. Yet Corrie's words continued to haunt even his unconscious state. Agitation surrounded his dormancy as Blix's jet darted ever closer to its appointed destiny.
Next issue: Second Chapter - Episode Seven
"White Smoke, Black Fire!" is an original work, registered with the Writers' Guild and all rights are the exclusive rights of The DAILY CATHOLIC who owns the copyright. Because of the nature of the internet and the importance of sharing, we hereby give the reader permission to collect and disseminate by e-mail each episode as it is presented in each issue of The DAILY CATHOLIC, provided that one includes this 1986, 2001 copyright statement and source - www.DailyCatholic.org - and take nothing out of context, nor reproduce it for profit. This work, fifteen years in the making, is a work of fiction that replicates the reality of today in many ways. However names, characters, places and incidents are used fictionally and any resemblance to actual persons and events, except those recorded in history, are purely coincidental.
WHITE SMOKE, BLACK FIRE!