Thursday, August 11, 2005

Chapter 6: October 14, 2030 A Halloween Party

The phone had been making off the hook noises for hours when Lily opened her eyes. She’d left it that way after trying over and over again to try to call Cass and see if he was all right. The alarm had progressed from waterfall noises, to a morning show on the radio, to a disturbing wail. The sun was streaming in through the window.

“Damn.”, Lily thought. “I’m going to be late.”

The shop wasn’t far, just across Cherry Creek and down the street at 8th and Speer. But, Lily had been warned in no uncertain terms by her boss, Mark DeVeux, that this morning’s meeting was a make or break event for the little catering shop, DeVeux Events, where she worked. Usually, Lily managed to fit in a little stroll along the bike path on her way in, but that was not going to happen today. Lily quickly washed her face in the kitchen sink, skipped her usual makeup, and threw on the ankle length plain black dress that she’d worn the night before -- despite the fact that it smelled of cheap cigarettes. She looked for shoes to put on as she headed out her front door, but the short and narrow heels she’d worn the previous night was the only thing she could see that matched.

Lily tripped once or twice racing down three flights of stairs after just missing the elevator, only to be saved by the hand rail. She lurched out her apartment building into the bracing early October morning, and set her eyes on her motorcycle, parked near the front entrance to be building. The building door snicked shut behind her. It suddenly occurred to Lily that the keycards to her apartment and the building were in her purse on the couch in her apartment, behind two locked doors. She hated the snotty little kid who handled lockouts -- for a $100 fee, but Lily would deal with that later. The clock tower across the road said 8:27, too late for the bus (even if she had any money) or to walk. This day was not looking like a good one.

Fortunately, the motorcycle was started with a fingerprint key. But, as Lily approached it, it occurred to her that an ankle length black dress posed certain difficulties. “You idiot!”, Lily informed herself, speaking to no one in particular. Mark DeVeux would kill her if she was late. This was a big client and she couldn’t afford to be the one that lost her. Lily needed this job to pay the rent. But, it wouldn’t do to have her boss and the shop’s big new client see her going down Speer Boulevard with her lacey panties from last night showing underneath a dress rolled up to her waist. With Lily’s luck today, she’d end up on the front page of the Rocky Mountain News.

Resigned to necessity, and not really trusting herself, Lily kicked her motorcycle into gear and daintily sat sidesaddle on the seat. The sight of Lily Matsunaka gracefully leaning back as the motorcycle slowly rolled back and forth, out of her apartment complex, East along 11th Avenue to Speer, in front Sunken Gardens Park, and over Cherry Creek into the front parking lot of the shop inspired a wolf whistle or two from some construction workers and kids on their way to West High School. It would have made a good shot for the paper even so, but no photographers were in evidence, and she’d already contributed to today’s front page, although she didn’t know it yet.

Lily rolled into the lot just as the shop’s grandfather clock chimed the half hour, in tandem with a huge boxy black Cadillac that could have housed an entire soccer team. Lily managed to land gracefully, and reached the front door just in time to hold it open for the surprisingly young woman who had disembarked from the monster next to her motorcycle in the parking lot. Mark DeVeux was all smiles to the client, but the moment the client looked away at a display of tarts, he shot Lily a lance that said “we’ve got to talk.” Meanwhile, stifled cheers and moans erupted from the back room, where bets had apparently been placed on whether Lily would make it in this morning.

“Ms. Tabor, I presume.”, Lily said, as the woman returned her gaze to Lily and Mark DeVeux from the elaborate tarts that were a DeVeux trademark confection. Ms. Tabor, was tall, blond, pale and thin, with big generous brown eyes, dressed in sharp tweedy designer clothes. Mark had told Lily that Ms. Tabor, who was a few years ahead of him at the Denver Academy, was an advertising executive, and she looked the part.

“Indeed! I’m here to talk to Lily Matsunaka and Mark DeVeux about the Halloween Fundraiser for the Terror Victims Fund. Hi! Mark, how’s it going? And, where’s this Lily Matsunaka I’ve heard so much about?”

“I’m her.”, Lily peeped, with a blend of indignation and pride.

“Oh my, you’re so young.”, Ms. Tabor exclaimed.

“Don’t worry Chloe. When it comes to ice sculpture, Lily is Denver’s rising star. She won’t be disappointed, will she Lily?”, Mark replied.

“Mr. DeVeux is generous.”, Lily answered, “but, I assure you I do take my work seriously and you’re welcome to look at my portfolio and let it speak for itself.” Lily wasn’t always so socially graceful, but she and Mark had worked out of standard banter for clients in the several months she’d worked for him.

“I think I will.”, Chloe said as Mark guided the two women to the parlor where he planned events with his clients, sitting Chloe in front of an pedestal with a reduced sized hologram of the sculpture Lily had done for the event for the Naval officers at the Governor’s mansion. Chloe Tabor gasped at what she saw, and walked around it to see it from all sides. After indicating thumbnails of few more of Lily‘s works that activated different holograms, Chloe stopped and simply said, “I’m impressed. You’d told me how incredible Lily’s work was before, but I had no idea.”

Mark adjusted the bud he liked to wear behind his right ear, gave Chloe a huge smile, and said, “Of course, work like this doesn’t come cheap, and is in addition to the ordinary catering costs.”

“Of course.”, Chloe said, “where would you like to start?”

“Why don’t you give me the notes on the location, number of guests, and menu needs we talked about before, and meet with Lily, while I go over them.”

Chloe nodded and turned her gaze straight into the surreal pastel green of Lily’s eyes set against Lily’s dusky skin and they began. Lily took Chloe’s hands in her own and asked her, almost trace like, “What do you want your guests to come away from the event thinking?”

Chloe spoke slowly, haltingly, torn away from the light chatter she’d been immersed in just moments before with Mark. “I want them to remember the horror of the killings that never seem to stop. . . And the people who are left behind to hurt. . . How human they are . . .how they could be anyone. . . I want them to remember how urgently they need love, support and money to rebuild their lives. . . . If they really get that message just once, I know they’ll keep giving for the rest of their lives. . . The Terror Victim’s Fund is a good cause.”

Lily spoke very softly, treading carefully. She had no idea whether Chloe had suffered personally. “Do you have any photographs? Of a terror scene? Of some of the people the fund helps? Pictures can capture feelings better than words do.”

A tear or two fell from a silent Chloe’s eye. Lily could see that this was personal.

“I’ll get you a little photo album tomorrow.”, Chloe said in a hush. “I don’t know why, but I don’t think I need to say any more. I know you’ll do the right thing.” Lily handed Chloe a tissue, gently acknowledging Chloe’s pain. “Thank you.”, Chloe said.

Lily went to the back room and collapsed into a chair in the break room.

Joe Romero stood across from her, leaning against the sink.

“You saw death face to face and survived yesterday. How did it feel?”, he asked.

“What?”, Lily asked, feigning ignorance.

Joe threw the front page of the Rocky Mountain News down in front of her. There was Lily’s portrait of the shooter, filling the entire page, larger than the original.

“I know your work, Lily. Police profilers don‘t use water colors.”, Joe said, “And, even if I didn’t, how many other Naval officers in Denver do you suppose took their dates to coffee shops at ten thirty, right next to the ballet you were going to see with Cass Jackson last night, not long after the show was over. I may not be a genius, but even if I hadn’t read the paper I would have guessed that there was some reason you came into work, terribly late, in an evening dress, with bags under your eyes.”

Lily involuntarily reached up to touch those dark spots.

“It was actually creamer and coffee.”, Lily said, “I used a swizzle stick as a brush.”

“You’re lucky to be alive Lily. You were right there when the shooting started, weren’t you?”

“Yes.”, Lily said, and she cried for the first time since it happened, shaking all over. “I just got a commission for the Terrorism Victims Fund. I didn’t plan on being one. But, I guess I am now.”

Joe gently held her shoulder. Then, he put on hand on the cross around his neck and the other on her hand and said a silent prayer. Then, Joe handed her a tissue, turned, and walked towards the back door.

“I’ve got to pick up the beef for tonight‘s function at the Stockyards. You know how to call me if you need to talk.”

And then, Joe left.

Lily used the shop phone to call the number Cass has left her.

“Corporal Wallace here.”, a voice answered.

“This is the “ice lady” calling. I’m sure Cass is too busy to talk, but is he O.K.?”

“I don’t think he’s too busy to talk to you. One moment please.”

“Lily, my darling, are you all right? I know I left in a rush and that you must have been terrified. It’s my job. I should have never put you in danger like that. I’ll make it up to you some how, if you still want to have anything to do with me.”

“Are you O.K.?”

“I’m fine. The sniper got away. I didn’t get much sleep, and I imagine you didn’t either, but I don’t have a scratch on me. A good night’s rest and she’ll be right.”, Cass said.

“Can we meet again? I need to see you. I hear you, but I don’t believe it.”

“Sure. Everything has been nuts since this happened, but I’ll make time. Someplace safe and discrete. Can you do dinner tonight at the Remembrance Towers, at the cafeteria on the 100th floor of the South Tower? My office is in the building, and I can’t think of any place safer. How about seven o’clock? That way I can take a nap and freshen up a little first. I’ll leave your name with the guards at the front gate, so you shouldn’t have any problem.”

“I’ll be there.”, Lily said, and terminated the connection.

Lily then laid her head on the break room table and took her own midmorning nap. Mark DeVeux saw her, but he’d read the paper by then and deduced what had happened, just as Joe had, despite the fact that her name wasn’t mentioned. He decided to let her sleep.

* * * * * * *

Just over a month after her last visit to the Remembrance Tower for Remembrance Day, Lily again got off the shuttle in the plaza in front of the Towers. At night a reflection of the city lights gleamed in their glass facade. This time, however, she went in the main door, rather than the tourist entrance.

The door opened easily enough, but only into a large cage of thick tinted glass. She crossed it to a door at the other side.

“Please place you right hand on the scanner and identify yourself and your business.”, a pleasant, but canned voice repeated from hidden speakers. A hand size panel near the door glowed and a camera behind the glass focused on her.

Lily put her hand on the panel and said, “I’m Lily Matsunaka, here to have dinner with Cass Jackson at the cafeteria on the 100th Floor.”

The door opened, and she walked through into a tinted glass tunnel. Once she was through the door it closed behind her, leaving her in an air lock. A small printer dropped a paper ticket in a glass bowl at the other end of the hallway. It had her name, and stated that she was authorized to ride to the 100th floor until midnight, to be present in the building accompanied by a host with permanent ID, and to exit the building. As she took the ticket, there was a hiss and the door at the other end of the tunnel opened out onto a bank of elevators. A man with a rifle over his shoulder sat at a lonely front desk in front of a screen, looking bored, and waved her on with his eyes. She went to an elevator labeled “Floors 50-100”, pressed a button, and got on when it opened.

“Please place your hand on the panel and select a floor.”, another canned voice said calmly.

Lily put her hand on the panel and pressed the button marked 100. The elevator rushed up so fast her made her stomach lurch a little. When the doors opened at the 100th floor, she got off.

Unlike the ground floor of the building, which had been dark and still at seven o‘clock at night, at least when she was there, the 100th floor, which appeared to be entirely a cafeteria, was perhaps a third full as mostly federal employees took their dinners in small groups or alone. Cass had positioned himself facing the elevator exit, and got up to meet her as she stepped into the cafeteria.

Lily ran up to him and grab both of his hands so tightly as she pulled herself up against him that he started and a several people in the cafeteria looked up to see what was happening before they decided to avert their eyes. She planted a long, fervent kiss on his lips. They paused and he too took a moment to be captivated by her pastel green eyes.

He took her by one hand towards the serving area. It was a step up from a mall food court. He suggested Cajun chicken, seafood gumbo, and cornbread, and offered her a glass of peach nectar. She accepted each of his suggestions, which looked better to her than other choices she’d seen. He took a prime rib and mashed potatoes incongruously matched with some Indian flat bread, and a small dish of Korean kimchi. He took an Arnold Palmer, half lemonade and half iced tea, to drink.

“Something tells me that you’ve discovered my Creole roots.”, Lily said, suspiciously as they made their way to the cashier.

“I actually had to pull a favor to get them to make the chicken, so I’m glad you wanted it. And what can I say, my dear. I’m in Naval Intelligence, it’s what I do.”

They set down their trays on a table for two near a window turned away from downtown where the snow covered Rockies gave off a pale reflected gleam in the background from the lights of the Western suburbs that filled the foreground. The streets pulsed with light, although the residential streets were surprisingly dark. A silk flower in a faded white plastic vase graced the table. The décor is no match for the food, Lily thought, as Cass placed their dishes on the table and took away the trays.

“If you were something other than a personal friend, my dear, I might be less than forthcoming with you right now. It comes with my job. But, as far as I know, nothing in your life has anything to do with my job, so I’m going to be honest with you. The table we’re sitting at is no accident.” Lily started, looking around. “No, not that way, the department has very strict rules governing interactions with outsiders, especially here in headquarters, to prevent espionage. That ugly silk flower you see is a audio-recorder, and your every move is recorded on videotape, just like in every other public place in the world these days. I don’t like it, but I see why they need it.”

“Oh.”, Lily said.

“I want to apologize to you for what happened last night.”, Cass said.

“You don’t have to . . . “, Lily started.

“I have a dangerous job. I’m not allowed to talk about the details, national security and all.”

“I understand.”

“But, that doesn’t mean that I can’t have a life. And, it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t make it up to you.”

“Really, you don’t have to, it wasn’t your fault.”

“In a way, it was my fault. I should have been more careful. I didn’t have to be out in dress uniform. I should have, at least, warned you. I would have never forgiven myself if you’d been hit last night.”

“What matters is that you and I are both alive.”, Lily said, squeezing both his hands again, not quite believing that this was all real.

“Have you ever been to Washington D.C.?”, he asked.

Lily sputtered at the sudden change of subject.

“No. To be honest, I’ve never been more than a few miles East of New Orleans.”, she wasn’t sure where he was going with this, but figured that with him, honesty was the best policy.

“Would you like to?”, he asked.

“Well, sure, but, you can’t just go on a vacation like that. You have work to do and so do I. This is only the third time we’ve met.”

“The fourth. The Governor’s ball, the bagel shop, the ballet, and now.”

“Whatever. No one’s ever asked me to go on a vacation before.”

“The truth be told, it wouldn’t be a complete vacation for me, I have to fly to the Pentagon every month to do work at headquarters anyway. But, that doesn’t mean that we couldn’t enjoy the city after hours, and there are plenty of things for a first time tourist to see.”

“But, how could I get away. I work almost every weekend and holiday. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are my days off. And November and December are especially busy.”

“Well, that’s perfect. Minnesota Mutual Air Taxi doesn’t fly to Denver on weekends anyway, and I can adjust my schedule so that my November trip is a Tuesday-Wednesday. Half the people I need to talk to are away for Thanksgiving anyway, so it won’t be a conflict.”

“An air taxi? Aren’t those wildly expensive? How can you afford it?”

“They aren’t quite as expensive as a private jet. And, the government, like everyone else, gets a refund if there’s a profit for the year, but, yeah it’s not cheap. But, I think I could get the department to pay for it, if you could spend about fifteen or twenty minutes talking to the people at headquarters about your contribution to this morning’s front page.”

“How do you know. . .”

“I talked to the investigating officer, and convinced him to keep any mention of you out of the story. That’s my job.”

“Is it a deal?”

“Where will we stay?”

“There’s no commitment. The office keeps a loft downtown for overnight trips like this. There’s more than one bed, if that would make you comfortable.”

“O.K.”, Lily said.

They held hands and watched the world pass by for a long time. Cass excused himself after a while, saying he had to go back to work. They exchanged a light good night kiss. And he went out, notably not offering her a tour of his office. A few minutes later she took the elevator down, left the building, and took the shuttle to downtown, and then another shuttle to her apartment. She went to the management office, mournfully agreed to pay the lockout fee, got into her apartment, and went to bed.

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