Thursday, August 11, 2005

Chapter 5: October 13, 2030

The ballet had been delightful. Lily had seen Swan Lake at Christmas once growing up, but Dracula was something entirely different. She’d never imagined that something could be so beautiful and so grotesque at the same time. According to Cass Jackson, who’d gone to Colorado at CU before becoming a Navy officer, it was a Denver tradition. Lily had lived all her life in Colorado, but her experience did not extend to the traditions of the local ballet companies.

Lily had never felt so admired in her life. Her ankle length sleeveless black dress wasn’t warm (especially at ten o‘clock at night in late October), but it was the only nice dress she owned. Her black and white pearl necklace she inherited from her mother, that her mother had inherited from her mother before her, caught a few glances, even in the glamour of the performing arts center. Her heels were starting to make her feet ache just a little, but she enjoyed the one inch height boost they gave her and the being slightly off balance did make her feel a little sexy. So did the lacey panties she’d worn just in case, even though this was only their second date. Next to Cass Jackson in his dress uniform (the most formal clothes he owned), she felt important.

Arm in arm, they walked out of the Performing Arts Center and into Downtown. Cass led Lily around the corner to a coffee shop and wine bar called Pablos. They ordered Irish Coffees and stared into each other’s eyes for a moment. More sizing each other up, than entranced.

In fact, Lily knew very little about Cass, and Cass knew very little about Lily. Lily had struggled with herself for almost a month before calling the number Cass had left for her. Part of her shared Mark’s concern that a man who would send two dozen roses out of the blue was probably a stalker creep who was best avoided. But, eventually, the part of her that said that she was young, all alone in a big city, and the object of someone’s desire won out. That, and Fiona’s effusive descriptions of Cass, anyway.

When she called, from a pay phone at the court house, just to be safe, she’d thought at first that she’d reached Cass himself. The fellow quickly corrected her and identified himself as a Northern Command Army Corporal Wallace, who was acting as Cass’s personal secretary and assistant. When she identified herself as the “Ice Lady”, the corporal said, “Yes, Ma’am”, in a tone that clearly conveyed knowledge and importance and asked her to stay on the line and that he’d have Mr. Jackson for her right away.

When Cass picked up, she heard construction in the background, but Cass was all sugar and honey. “Thank you for calling Ma’am. I thought for sure I was a fool. . .”

“Maybe you were.”, Lily, answered, provoking a poignant silence at the other end of the line. But, Lily started again, before he had a chance to respond. “But, I’m willing to give you a chance to prove it. Would you like to do lunch?”

“Yes, Ma’am!”, Cass responded. After a few more seconds of conversation they agreed to have lunch at a Bagel Shop on the Sixteenth Street Mall the following day. Lily didn’t want to take on chance on meeting this man anywhere other than a public place, or anywhere that alcohol was served, for the first time. She wasn’t actually a bagel fan, but, she’d thought it through, and discussed it at length with Fiona at the flower shop, and declared it safe and someplace that he probably wouldn’t be familiar with as a Southerner. She had decided that she didn’t want to meet him anyplace that was his turf.

The connection had been terminated before Cass was cursing himself for failing to get Lily’s name.

Fiona and Lily had also, of course, done some research on Cass Jackson before this call took place, because they did have his name. Her really was a naval officer and was apparently attached to some senior officer on loan to the Colorado National Guard to fight terrorism under a program set up by the Department of Defense Northern Command and the Department of Homeland Security. He got an undergraduate degree in International Relations from C.U. and was a master’s degree student in the school of Islamic Studies at C.U. as well. A couple of yearbook searches showed that he was on the Equestrian Team and Philosophy Club at C.U., and graduated from High School in Tallahassee, Florida, where he was declared “Most Likely To Fight Terrorism.” He was twenty-four years old. A criminal record search and a credit record search showed that he had no particular blemishes on his record, didn’t own a car (presumably he used the military motorcade), and didn’t have a mortgage. Fiona and Lily agreed that he passed the basic background check.

Lunch went well and finally broke the ice. He didn’t tell any obvious lies, compared and contrasted every great religion’s definition of infidel, and did great caricatures of working with his Nigerian counterpart, John Franklin, scion of a Liberian based shipping family. She gave him her name, let him know that she had roots in the South without being too specific, and explained to him what life as a real farm girl was like. He was impressed that she’d been to the Denver Stock Show every year since the year she was born. She didn’t leave him her number, but informed him that she knew how to find him, and asked to remain the “Ice Lady” to his staff.

“It has an ironic ring to it.”, she said.

He asked her if she’d like to get together again sometime, just before they left. And, she said yes.

A week later, an invitation to the Ballet addressed to “The Ice Lady”, arrived at the shop along with a delightfully complicated African orchid hand delivered by Clark Crist. She bought her dress, because she thought she should own one. They met in the lobby, where they shared appetizers and wine before the show while discussing amusing costumes that some of the audience had chosen to wear. They watched Dracula together, and wound up back here at Pablos. The first time she’d kissed him was in the lobby on the way out.

Lily ventured a serious question.

“So, how did you end up in the Navy?”, she asked.

“My grandfather was in the World Trade Center, closing a business deal, on September 11, 2001. He died that day. It was before I was born, but I heard the stories growing up. It crushed my father. My grandfather’s business was bought out by his partners. My father’s family had enough money, but grandma never really recovered. Grandpa was everything to her. Dad grew up to be a man full of hate. He put his hand on his gun any time a woman with veil or an Arab looking man got near the dealership where he was a car salesman. He thought all Muslims were evil. I didn’t want grandpa’s death to go unpunished either, but I didn’t have the same hate and anger. I studied religion and international affairs in college and signed up for Naval Intelligence. I want to get the people who are really the problem, so people like my dad can stop being mad at the whole rest of the world.”

“That’s quite a story.”, Lily responded.

Cass was about to ask Lily a question about her. Lily looked out the window while he collected his thoughts and saw the face of a man leaning over the back of a pickup truck holding a rifle. A small red light appeared on the white vase with silk flowers sitting between them at their table.

“Get down!”, Cass yelled with a steely voice only the military can give a man.

Cass instantly fell to the ground in a crouch, knocking the table over between them, and upending Lily’s chair in a single motion. At the same moment glass shattered everywhere and the rapid fire bang, bang, bang, bang, that sounded like fireworks, rang through the air. People screamed. The mirror right behind their table was shattered. The pickup truck across the street screeched away. Cass had pulled a handgun Lily hadn’t even known he had and was panning it, shooting rapidly at the departing pickup through the window pane. He glanced at Lily.

“Are you all right?”, he asked.

“Yes.”, she whimpered.

And he was gone. He leapt over the fallen table and out the front door, chasing after the pickup, firing as he went. Cass dodged a few more spurts of gunfire. He screamed into his phone. He showed his badge and gun and commandeered a taxi, leaving the driver standing dumb founded on the sidewalk. Screeching into the darkness, he was gone. Suddenly, Lily was all alone again.

The proprietor went from table to table, asking if everyone was all right. After he’d made his first round and called the police, Lily asked for some paper, some creamer, and some coffee. Having done everything else he could, the proprietor complied with her requests.

Lily went to a corner table that had escaped the gunfire as the police sirens wailed moving in her direction, and others sounded in the distance. She tried not to think about where Cass was by focusing on her self appointed task. In ten or fifteen minutes she was done, and looked up, and the policeman who’d interviewed everyone else came over to her. He looked over her shoulder.

The man’s face, and arms, as he leaned over the edge of the pickup holding a gun, were almost as clear as a photograph, painted in coffee and creamer with a swizzle stick.

“It was him.”, Lily said, pointing at her drawing.

The police man asked if she’d mind coming a few blocks to the police station so he could ask her some questions. She agreed. Three hours later, at almost three a.m., the interviewing police officer drove her home, not leaving until she was safely in her complex and the building door had locked behind her.

The front pages of the Denver Post, the Rocky Mountain News, and U.S.A. Today had her drawing, captioned “police reconstruction” staring out at her. The Rocky Mountain News, which goes to press latest, also informed its readers that police had tentatively attached a name to the suspect’s description. The suspect was purportedly armed and dangerous and had escaped apprehension. The reports mentioned that an undisclosed Naval officer in dress uniform was the target, but didn’t mention that he had a date with him.

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