Out of a clear blue sky, stock brokers and janitors rained.
Contorted bodies approached terminal velocity in wind-whipped business suits.
Forced to decide between the slow agony of fire and the sudden — O, God I hope it’s sudden –slam against cement, they laid out upon the atmosphere, wishing for the whisper of angel wings to whisk them ever upward.
I called a database vendor to get a project update. He said, “Do you know what’s happening?”
“We’re under attack,” he said. “America is under attack.”
Phone slam. Dial my brother’s house — my brother, the United Airlines pilot. His wife answers.
Trying to sound calm, I say, “Where’s Jim?”
“He’s in triple-seven training in Colorado.”
She’s heard. She’s watching.
Turns out that one of the commandeered flights was a route my brother sometimes flew. Try not to think about that.
Several days later, I’m out in the yard in rural Central Pennsylvania and the eery silence of the skies gives way to the whistle of a small jet engine. I stop and stare stunned at the ordinary airplane in the glide path of the local airport. I watch it to the vanishing point — the first I’ve seen since they cleared the skies because no one knew how many more would become missiles.
America’s incredible knack for engineering and for funding seamless systems was transformed by a relatively primitive enemy, into a boomerang bomb that locked onto us, like the Russian torpedo in the climax of The Hunt for Red October.
Thirteen years since we grounded 4,000 planes, and later gazed nervously at each passing jet.
Thirteen years since we wondered how a hillbilly with a tablecloth hat toppled two skyscrapers and punched a smoldering hole in the headquarters of the world’s most powerful military force, using not much more than a Koran and a box cutter.
Thirteen years of scanning faces in departure lounges. Wondering.
Now, put yourself in the shoes of the CIA director, or of the interrogator in the field.
If you thought you had even a small chance of stopping another attack, what “enhanced” tactics would you not try?
What moral code would impede you from your utmost exertion to quench the flame…to catch the falling man?
Damn them in hindsight, if you will.
In their best efforts, I hear the whisper of angel wings.