I was fucked. I had taken a risk and peeked out the window near the fire escape to ascertain the situation and it turned out that I was in the center of a three-ring circus, and my chances of getting out were dwindling by the moment.
In the first ring there were helicopters, riot police, K-9s, harbor patrol, APVs, mounted patrol, acres of beat cops, SWAT, plainclothes, and the bomb squad.
The second ring had ladders, pumpers, Medic One, hazmat, and heavy rescue from what looked like seven districts. They were like swarming ants, tugging on canvas hoses and attaching them to fire hydrants, creating a creeper-like tapestry of netted water.
The third ring was everybody else and their fucking dog watching the prickly festival of testosterone.
What the fuck was going on? Why so much callout? I slid down and put my back to the door, gazing down a row of empty cubicles. The cube closest to me was tidy. Papers, neatly stacked. Family photos pushpined to the fabric walls depicting two kids and a husband. There was a crayon drawing of what looked like a orange dragon/dog in front of a lake. A small, perky potted philodendron trailed over the desk. A lavender cardigan hung on the back of the task chair, which was pushed back against the file cabinet. The only clue something was amiss was an empty coffee mug on the floor, resting on its side.
Trying desperately to think of a way to get out, I was staring at the coffee mug when I was startled to realize that the building was trembling. Then there was a loud CRACK, and my stomach could hear steel bending somewhere in the building until it was drowned out by a shuddering crash that rang the building like a bell and sent burning debris flying over my head and out most of the windows.
Then came the heavy bits of concrete and metal, and after that, flaming wreckage arced and fell like tephra all about me, causing microfires to start everywhere.
“Holy shit.” I told the plant.
This explained the zoo around the building. My guess was that the roaster somehow caught fire and had been putting up a major plume. Add reports of gunshots and possibility for a hostage situation, and someone probably thought they had a terrorist attack on their hands.
That meant that FBI, ATF, CIA, and DoD were here or on the way, too.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck.” The plant was nonplussed.
I didn’t have a choice now with the fire – I had to go out the fire escape behind me. My best chance was that in all the confusion with a major fire, I could avoid the police. I pulled off the white suit, yanked the door open, and started down the six flights of stairs.
I begin to hear a sound that I’ve heard before, but can’t quite place. A deep bass pushing growl of a groan. My stomach goes cold as I connect the sound to ground waves I see rolling towards me. I blink, not sure that what I’m seeing is real, but my brain connects as I watch successive rooflines bob and dip, bob and dip in the distance and throw mostly older, brick buildings down into heaps of rubble.
This was turning into a very strange and even more dangerous day.
Particularly since I was standing on a steel fire escape bolted to an older brick building.
I immediately flashed to the photographs of the building under construction displayed in the cafeteria.
The cafeteria of the building was a curious place inhabited by all manner of strange peoples. Working in one of the largest buildings in Seattle, it housed a number of firms, ranging from a Fortune 500 to mom-and-pops.
Across the street is a hardware store, where mostly Central and South American illegal immigrants and a handful of African Americans advertise their skills with buckets overflowing with brushes, saws, stilts, wrenches and various and sundry tools. Most only have their hands, backs and legs to offer.
The tradesmen stand apart and alone, waiting and watching in silence, keeping a keen eye for their truck to pull into the lot. The one with the rack on top, battered by metal pipes being heaved on top. The one covered in a fine dusting of gypsum. The one with a generator chained in the bed. The step-van. The rent-a-truck with a lift gate. Some smoke, some pace, some sit on their buckets. All wear the clothes of their trade from their paint-spotted caps down to their steel-toed boots. Most have small coolers harboring whatever passes for lunch inside. Always in the same spot, day after day, staking out the corner nearest the lumber load, the drywall load, the tool rental. Always in the correct place to beat the crowd. A target is spotted, and a practiced movement that a professional athlete would envy shows a fluid cigarette flick as they grasp their bucket and make haste with their livelihoods. I see them every day and we know each other by time and place but not by name and we nod, each acknowledging the other’s need to be where they are right now to keep their bellies full.
The muscle stands in groups that chatter, laugh and wave their hands when talking. They wear t-shirts, dress shirts, tennis shoes, shorts, jeans, Dockers, belted, unbelted. Some have paper bags, a few have backpacks but most have nothing but themselves. They swarm every truck, jostling for position. You can tell who is hungry, who has a family to feed, who is desperate – they move the fastest and are gone before the more comfortable deign to end their conversation. Some knots have designated translators who are just dealmakers. They are better dressed and have regular clients, and they sell and load up their fleshy wares by the truckload.
From time to time, I would see some standing at parade rest. More rarely, singular figures would be dressed in fatigues and combat boots. Most of those had canteens and a small rucksack. Always loners, they were invariably short, attentive to my passing through their space and to a man, looked very uncomfortable. I was never sure if they got jobs or not. It seemed they were waiting for someone to come to them. They were a puzzle. Shining Path? FARC? DISIP? Deserters? MPs? Alas, my knowledge of military uniforms is lacking, and Occam’s razor reminds me that there is a military surplus store on the opposite corner, which is where I instantly decided I needed to be.
But first, I had an earthquake and a bazillion fucking teenage boys in rut with guns to deal with.