Saturday, August 19, 2006

Chapter 19: August 19, 2031 A Picnic Missed

The picnic was almost ready.

Above every picnic table the gossamer wings of radio controlled aircraft, about the weight of a small piece of paper flew, shimmered as they flew in figure eights, keeping away the flies.

The last the four lawn mowing robots was slowing down from the burden of a full mulch bag as it made its final swath, while the rest had already made their way back through the open lower half door into the lawn shed.

Not far from the lawn shed, a roast pig was turning on a spit, under the watchful eye of a chef who split his attention between the spit and a long row of turkey drumsticks keeping warm dangling on strings over dim coals.

Hundreds of fireflies were waiting in their jars, out of sight, ready to be released over the patio, just after sunset, when the releases are triggered by light sensors.

With a press of a button, the remote ignition in all six of the chimineas set strategically amidst gathering places of benches and chairs across the patio ignited, starting to warm those spots on a chilly late summer evening.

Another button released a subtle miasma of flowery perfume, matched to the mix of flowers in the garden, but more intense. It mixed with ozone blown in from the dry thunder in the distant foothills.

Every four minutes a gentle mist sprayed out from the tree tops, taking the edge of the dry summer air. Prisms hanging at the end of wind chimes sent rainbows twirling all over the garden, every time the sun peeped out of the overcast sky, and each little gust of breeze filled the air with tinkling.

The fountains were bubbling and their basins were alive with carp jostling about their confines. Ice buckets, strategically placed in pools in the cool artificial stream connecting the fountains from one end of the garden to the other, waited full of bottles of chardonnay and pinot noir, until the wine stewards arrived to open them.

Six valets were lounging in the entryway, ready to deliver guests cars to a reserved section of the homeowner’s association’s underground parking lot in a few minutes.

The trellises full of ripe grapes with broad green leaves spreading out in their full glory obscured the city streets five stories below, while remaining low enough for a good view of the crests of the Rocky Mountains in the distance and the sharp peaks of the Denver Art Museum between the condominium complex and the mountains, its titanium sheath gleaming dully in the evening sun. Noise cancellation speakers positioned along the perimeter muted the low rumble of traffic that would otherwise fill the space.

The freight elevator was held at the garden level, ready to carry discards down to the garage basement, where catering trucks waited ready to take the discards and refill the picnic tables with hor d’oeuvres waiting in the industrial sized refrigerators in the catering trucks there. Also waiting in one of the refrigerator trucks was a giant ice sculpture on a cart so large that it just barely fit on the freight elevator, another of Lily’s masterpieces.

The public elevator was at the ground floor, waiting for guests to arrive. Balloons festooned the entry doors. A red carpet led guests to the elevator door. A lipstick arrow on the metallic elevator controls pointed to the button for the garden level. A low profile security guard sat at his station where a computer was ready to compare photos of the incoming guests to photos of the individuals on the guest list, and divert elevators containing suspicious individuals to a lounge three floors below the garden level, or to the basement level in the garage if it appeared they were armed, to be interrogated before joining the party.

Lily waited just outside the cooler, plopping whipped cream onto Jell-O cups enhanced with a new olfactory enhancer compound that hijacked your brain’s ability to see in color and converted it into an enhanced sense of smell particularly attuned to human pheromones. Her main reason to be at the picnic was to escort her ice sculpture and say a word or two about it, if the opportunity presented itself, but while she was around, she had to make herself useful. Right now, plopping whipped cream onto Jell-O cups was what had to be done.

She was, however, on call for the Metropolitan Denver Volunteer Dive Team again. She’d been on call two shifts a week for a month and a half now, and had been called in only once – to recover a radio controlled boat which had been carrying a pricey anniversary ring across Smith Lake in Washington Park before it succumbed to an attack by a pair a geese who were not pleased to have their mating dance interrupted. Not exactly the emergency that she had trained for, but it was good practice.

Her motorcycle, siren and all, was waiting in the pedestrian mall between the art museum and the condominium complex. Her swimsuit was invisible beneath her thigh length floral dress with ruffle filled half sleeves. But, by now, the anticipation had faded.

Lily joined the Jell-O Cups en route to the garden level, and had started transferring them to picnic tables where the earliest guests were starting to survey the spread when she heard the Jaws Theme music in her right ear. Shit! The snorkel earring pager was giving her the alert. She scanned the scene until she saw Fiona carrying wreath hung with pineapple chunks to the head table.

“I’ve been called in. Gotta go. Tell people what’s up,” she told Fiona in a loud whisper as she walked very quickly to the emergency stairwell.

Fortunately, health activists had insisted that stairwells not be fitted with alarms. Before the door had fully closed on her, Lily was pulling her dress over her head, trying her best not to snag it on her pager earring. She’d worn sensible shoes, so that wasn’t a problem. Once she was freed of the dress, which she left on the landing, she roared down the steps three at a time.

As she burst out of the building, it turned out she was on the opposite side from her motorcycle. She raced around the building in her navy and red striped swim suit and flats, past tuxedo and evening dress garbed party guests. As she mounted her motorcycle and put her finger on the ignition pad, the navigation screen identified the location, and a crawl at the bottom explained the situation – a six year old kidnap victim tossed from Platte Bridge while the kidnapper made their escape; she was struggling and starting to go under when the 9-1-1 call came in. The call was now almost two minutes old.

Lily turned on the sirens, racing across the plaza, stopping traffic on 13th Avenue, dodging the sculptures on display between the library and the old part of the Art Museum, and cut across Civic Center Park on a pedestrian walkway, nearly knocking over a drunk with a bottle in a brown paper bag. She dodged traffic on Colfax and rushed down 15th Street swerving in between cars, trucks and buses pulling aside or stopping upon seeing motorcycle’s flashing lights, except for one small car that fled as fast as it could down Stout Street nearly hitting a young couple in the 16th Street Mall in the process.

As she came to Commons Park, she jumped the curb, sending turf up behind her as she crossed the field to the bridge. Bystanders were pointing. An older man with a long stick was trying to reach out from the shore and cautiously wading out into the deeper water. Following their focus, Lily caught a glimpse of the little girl, blue in the face, three feet or so under the water in the center of the South Platte River, snagged on a jutting piece of old concrete. The river was running fast and high with rain from the foothills and the storm was starting to break in Denver. There was no time. By now, it was almost five minutes since the call came in, and the girl had probably spent most of that time under water. This girl’s life was worth her motorcycle.

It was oddly peaceful as the motorcycle careened off the sidewalk at the foot of the bridge and into the air.

“Look out”, the bystanders screamed at the old man, who turned in time to duck out of the way.

The sirens wailed, distorted somehow by the movement as the machine fell away from her as she dismounted in midair, aiming to land feet first as close to the girl as she could manage.

Lily could feel the goose bumps on her bare legs.

Splash. The river was cold. Lily collapsed her legs as she made impact, just as she’d trained to do, but the impact still stung. She was underwater. She flexed her legs. Her head and shoulders cleared the foamy water. She scanned back and forth frantically to get her bearings.

So many people were shouting at once that she couldn’t make out what they were saying. She saw her motorcycle sinking into the water, flashing lights not yet giving out, sirens muted and garbled. She stopped listening and watched and saw the place where she’d caught a glimpse of the girl before. She was still there, a few yards away.

Lily half-swum, half-walked to the girl, reached down and grabbed her. She was blue in the face and wasn’t breathing. Lily hauled her upside down as best she could to drain the water from her, and then started rescue breathing, the girl in her arms, as she made her way to shore. Air in, release, air in, release. The mouth was cold. Lily was feeling for a pulse as she administered breaths. Nothing. She stopped the breathing and ran as fast as she could for shore, stumbling, regaining control, stumbling again. The old man and two younger men reached her and steadied her.

“CPR”, Lily said. She needs “CPR.”

The older man frowned.

Child still in her arms, steadied and in shallower water, Lily made for a sandbank, placed the child on the ground as gently as she could manage in case the girl had a back injury, and started rapid compressions.

“Get a blanket or a towel,” Lily said, “We need a back board. She needs an ambulance now!”

Someone draped a blanket over both Lily and the girl.

Lily focused on nothing but compressions. It seemed like an eternity, when a fire-rescue team managed to bring a stretcher from the road to the bridge, and then a backboard down to the sand bar. The firemen transferred the girl to the backboard, strapped her down, and another fireman motioned to her that he would take over the compressions. They made their way up the hill, where the fireman doing compressions got on the stretcher and continued as it rolled to the waiting ambulance.

Lily collapsed back onto the sandbank as the stretcher moved out of sight.

The screams returned.

Lily looked up.

A wave of water was coming at her. The storm had produced a flash flood.

She scrambled for the bank, getting hold of some grass.

The water hit, ripping her downstream with a handful of grass.

Lily fought to stay afloat and managed to grab a tree root. It held fast. She hung on tightly, too exhausted to do more right away.

She heard a dog bark. A huge white sheep dog peered over the bank. The man who owned her followed a moment later. He released the dog’s leash and offered it to her to pull her up. She held on and tried to help climb out. Soon she was collapsed on the bank as the lightening continued to flash over the city and the rain built up even stronger.

Lily’s instincts told her that she shouldn’t be under a lone tree in a thunderstorm, but she was too tired to protest or leave what little protection it provided from the rain.

“Probably not the best time for swimming,” the man said.

* * * * *

The coffee at the fire station was weak, and the cream in it was almost spoiled, but it was hot and that made up for its deficiencies. It took some cheek to have a Cubs mug in a Denver fire house, Lily thought.

The search crew had arrived moments after the man and his dog had helped pull her out of the river. They, at least, had the benefit of knowing which direction the river was going to take her, and a good guess about how fast the river was flowing.

Her pager earring was lost. Her hair was bundled up in a towel. She was wearing one of the smallest fire fighting suits at the station, still several sizes too large for her, and had a blanket wrapped around that. A fire house mutt was curled up at her feet.

Several of the firemen were sitting on the bumper of their ladder truck, watching the rain come down. They seemed to agree that pre-teens wanted to wear entirely inappropriate clothes to start the school year with this year.

Her first call on the station house phone was to the dive team coordinator. She explained that she was all right, if a bit in shock, and that she’d done all she could.

Her next was to her boss at the DeVeaux catering. She explained that she’d had to go in, that she wouldn’t be coming back to the picnic, and that she’d probably be in late the next day.

“Take tomorrow off, on me, as an extra vacation day. Consider it my civic duty,” Mr. DeVeaux said.

Her third call was to Cass.

“Please come get me. I’m at the downtown fire station,” she said.

“I’m coming,” he replied, and that was the end of the conversation.

* * * * *

The next morning, Lily called Denver Health and inquired, explaining how she was involved. The girl hadn’t died. She had no memory of what had happened. It was clear that she had suffered permanent and serious brain damage. But, she hadn’t died, and she wasn’t a vegetable.

Lily cried for a long time.

Cass watched, and, after a while, held her hand while she cried. A little later she fell asleep again.

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