T he norther that had entered the night before had now settled over the metroplex of Dallas-Fort Worth. The barren branches of the trees outside Corrie's apartment silhouetted against a cobalt blue sky, dabbled here and there with thin white clouds as if a tube of sweet icing had gone amok in a baker's hand.
Dateline: Dallas, November 1, 10:45 a.m.
That was Corrie's view as she peered westward through her picture window out into the courtyard of the Los Colinas Lakes Manor, the complex where she lived. The sun was building in the east, hitting the units across the park-like setting and bouncing in ebullient sparklers off the masonry and onto the winding concrete walkways below. She pressed her hand, palm side down, against the windowpane and felt the frosty coldness of the air outside, so beguilingly masquerading behind the sunshine.
She kept her hand there for a long moment before finally removing it and laying it against her face. The coolness felt good to her feverishness. She could not help feeling dismayed that overall she felt physically somewhere between leftover dishwater and a felled soufflé.
A few minutes ago her first thought, as her eyes had flown open as if jerked into that unwelcome predicament by some unknown shock, had been for Pat. As she had adjusted to the morning reality the wave of reality engulfed her anew. After taking her phone off the no disturb mode, she had called his house. No answer, just the machine. She had called his office. Just voice mail. Probably in meetings going over strategy and assignments.
After her shower she would call him again at the office to see how he was holding up. She knew he'd probably still be there a few more hours compiling stories from the wire services, trying to sift news sources for every tidbit of information to the massacre in Iraq, acting much like a sieve to drain away the elaboration of facts. Mentally she wished him luck...and more. It would take talent and persistence for Pat to achieve his hope of getting to the very core of this terrible incident.
No use lingering over the unknown, she told herself firmly, turning from the window and allowing the heavy drapes of delicate peach hue to fall back into place as she moved from the living room to the roomy bathroom to wash some of the night away and prepare herself for the rest of the day.
"Never stop... Keep going...You can do it, Morelli" She encouraged her reflection in the mirror beneath the glare of the glass bulbs jutting out across the top of the vanity. They revealed to her all too plainly the horror of the night before had left her worse for wear. She stared at the rows of creams, astringents, moisturizers and facial packs, to the even more abundant rows of make-up which served to give her the illusion of untold beauty by the time she'd artfully applied the transforming concoctions of ingredients she'd never heard of, couldn't pronounce, and hadn't the slightest idea of what purpose they were supposed to be applied. It was a stark contrast to Sister Bridie's monastic chamber in the Vatican.
Preservation. That was what it was all about, Corrie thought ruefully. Every jar, tube and stick of color was meant to preserve youth, while having no power to halt time.
Preservation. How long had the world been caught in this guise? She pondered. Was it peculiar only to the modern age? Corrie knew better. Since time immemorial mankind had sought to ward off old age and signs of mortal weakness, and there were few who did not fall prey to the lure of looking eternally beautiful.
"How transparent," she whispered with a clarity of both mind and soul. And, somehow, how foolish!
She realized she had been sucked into this same mindset. The overwhelming evidence lay before her, as a jury shouting "guilty."
Eternal youth could be wiped out in a split second, just as all those lives had ended last night in that deplorable act of utter violence. It didn't matter the religious persuasion. That didn't diminish the effect. All was transitory. All was illusion. A magician's trick. Except it was not illusion; it was reality. A terrible, tragic reality.
She twisted the shower on full blast, thankful once again for something so few take for granted - hot water. God cared naught for make-up, lipstick and perfume, she deduced as she stepped beneath the hot water. He did, however, care that man be clean. She was intent on that initiative.
Were her thoughts becoming obsessive? She pondered. She knew she was tired. What little sleep she had gotten had been troubled. Ben had dropped her at the door of her apartment. Such a gentleman. He was like a father to her. Her own dad, long a widower, had died six years before. Ben had been a comfort at the funeral and finally coaxed her to visit him at The Crooked Spigot nearly a year later. That was the night he introduced her to Pat. Ben was cupid-personified sans bow and diapers. So crafty. He knew all along.
It had taken Corrie a while to fall asleep. After a final glass of White Chablis, she finally succumbed to somnia. Still it had been a restless night. The state of her bed testified to the fact that her restive body had tossed and turned from one side to the other until sheets and blankets were so tangled that a contortionist could not have been able to decipher the how of it.
The pipes clanked as she abruptly shut off the source of the water and stepped out, toweling off, steam enveloping the room and coating the mirror. That was fine with her. She had not put her make-up on yet. Oh, not that thought-trend again, she mused interiorily as she tried to concentrate on the fact Pat would surely phone her before much longer. He always did, especially when he knew he was going to be tied up on an assignment for a long time. The mental image surfaced in her mind's eye of Pat with his eye on his watch, waiting to be sure she was up and about. He'd call. And whenever she had heard his voice for the first time on each day he called, her entire body would tingle. Love did that. Her smile, as she finished brushing her teeth and wiping down part of the mirror, conveyed that very fact.
Pat had such a reassuring, strong voice, so resonant, so filled with self-assurance and confidence, albeit a bit cocky at times. Yet, she could overlook that in knowing the real Pat. They had tried to discuss the "M" word more than a few times. It was something she herself had been putting off, but her biological clock was counting down and, after five years she knew he was the one. Hell, she thought, she knew the minute Ben introduced them. She had concealed those emotions so well. Had Pat guessing for a good three months, but then she opened her heart and he moved slower. Almost lost him a few times to the wiles of others who had designs on his muscular body rather than his heart. Ben had been a blessing.
He was such a strength to her, someone she could confide in. Over the years she and Ben had ganged up on Pat in an attempt to tame him, to keep him from wandering, to reassure him of those who truly cared for and about him.
Idleness was the devil's workshop, Ben would constantly remind her. Pat didn't have an idle bone in his body and she berated herself for not keeping up with him at times. She was one of Dallas' up and coming authentic interior consultants. She owned a shop in the fashionable area of Highland Park, just north of the city. Her particular expertise was in prized paintings. Today, she had a particularly wealthy, but difficult client, coming to consult with her at 2 p.m. Work waited for no one, and was unconscious of extenuating events.
All through her morning ritual she kept expecting the call. With her hair wrapped in a turban, she took several sips of the oven-roasted Folgers that had been percolating while she was trying to wash the sorrows of last night off under a steaming nozzle. No success. She was clean, but the memories stayed with her. While she fixed her nails, she watched the TV. Fox News was in the midst of a recap. Two explosive experts were being interviewed. She hit the off switch and ambled towards the bath again to brush out her hair and apply the first layer of beautification.
She deliberately left the radio off until she was through air-blowing her locks. That complete, she switched on the Bose Wave radio in her bedroom. The acoustical sounds easily penetrated the vanity area of the bath where she began the daily routine of prettying herself up. Her cell phone lay on the shelf next to the vanity so she would hear Pat's call.
She applied the layers of make-up like a master artist, so skillfully that the end result had always been so smooth that it looked as if she wore nothing but skin. While applying eyeshadow, the melodic easy listening music had been unceremoniously interrupted by a news bulletin updating radio listeners of the early morning explosion in Iraq.
Corrie stood riveted to the spot, mascara brush poised halfway to her eyelashes, as confirmation formed the core of the report. All had been killed. The Pope, the chief Rabbi, the Orthodox Patriarchs, Prime Ministers and Presidents, the list went on. The official death toll had not yet been calculated, but international officials were not optimistic. Military troops from many nations were involved. This included a hefty share of U.S. Army and Marines, Iraqi police, international police, criminal investigators, members of security organizations from the CIA to the Masad, and medical personnel from all areas with the assistance of the International Red Cross were either on hand or enroute to assist.
There was nothing new in this report, Corrie felt nauseated all over again by it. Would she ever get over it? She knew one thing was crystalline. Beneath this senseless holocaust of enormous proportions was an undercurrent of pure depravity as absolute as the hideous event unleashed on the unsuspecting people assembled to usher in peace on earth. There was something so malignant about the corrupt nucleus of the act that Corrie found herself trembling. She desperately needed to call Pat, to hear his reassuring voice.
Finishing the final touches, she dressed, muted the Bose Wave and, unable to wait any longer, dialed Pat's office number.
No luck. It would just click over again to the voice mail. She called the main switchboard again. Again she was sandbagged. She would get to the bottom of this.
Sadly Pat's voice was not the first she heard after the fifth ring. It was Vic's. "Metroplex Mirror news room, Vic Van Wess here."
"Victor, this is Corrie Morelli. I've been trying to reach Pat. Your people keep telling me he's not there, but I've checked his home and he's not there so..."
"Pat's on assignment, Corrie." Vic gulped at the next inevitable question she would ask.
"Does this have anything to do with the massacre last night, Vic?"
"You ask a lot of questions, Corrie."
"With no answers. It's frustrating," she stammered. "Pat always keeps in touch. It's not like him."
"I'm afraid he's been sworn to secrecy, Corrie. We all have. I'm sorry, I really am, but we'll let you know as soon as..."
Corrie, frustrated and near tears, was incensed at how Vic, of all people, was trying to dismiss her without any consolation of where Pat was. "Understand this, Vic, if you won't tell me I'll go to someone who will - Edwin Blix."
Vic bolted upright in his chair, "Corrie!!! Don't get involved. For God's sake, for Pat's sake, leave it alone. I'll get back to you as soon as I can. I promise."
"Something's not right, is it, Vic?"
Vic was now rushing her, "Yeah. Gotta go, Corrie. Wire ticker is overflowing. I'll get back to you. Promise."
He disconnected her and took a deep breath. "God, I'm sorry, Corrie. You're right. Something's not right. Damn!"
Corrie gulped her coffee in a pique of anger mixed with helplessness. Intent on getting to her office to bide her time until the appointment in two and a half-hours, she grabbed her coat, purse, cell phone and headed out of the bedroom. She had not even bothered to make the bed. Its twisted covers surfaced as a visible sign of the wrench she felt in the pit of her stomach.
Next issue: Third Chapter - Episode One
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WHITE SMOKE, BLACK FIRE!