The flight to New York's JFK International Airport was fairly short and quite uneventful. I was, however, a bit overwhelmed by the sheer size of New York City. Someone once said that Toronto was like New York if it was run by the Swiss. Whether that was accurate or not, I don't know, but I did notice right away that even compared to Toronto, everyone seemed to be in a huge hurry all around me.
Having cleared customs back in Toronto, I simply had to collect my bag and then catch a ride to the hotel. The company had actually arranged for a limo and as soon as I exited the gate I saw a driver standing there holding a sign with my name on it.
The drive downtown was a real eye-opener for me. New York was much like Toronto but on a much larger scale. Some of the neighborhoods looked a little rough but the downtown area as breathtaking in terms of the sheer number of enormous buildings. The World Trade Center complex, which I had seen from the air as the plane approached the city, stuck out like a beacon.
Little did I know that we were heading right for the Trade Center. Emmett's assistant had booked me into a room at the luxurious Marriott Hotel at 3 World Trade Center which was virtually wedged between the twin towers.
After checking in, I ordered a late lunch from room service and flipped on the TV. I was due to meet Emmett at 3PM that afternoon at his office. As I waited for my lunch to arrive, I picked up my cell phone and dialed Josh's cell number.
"Hey bud, just letting you know that I arrived safely. You should see this hotel. I'm on the 17th floor right between the two World Trade Center towers. Anyway, talk to you soon. Love you son." I said leaving Josh a voice message.
After I ate, I still had some time to kill so I headed down to the concourse level of the Trade Center and wandered around browsing in the various shops. I wished that I had more time to explore the city but I was there with a specific purpose in mind and I had everyone at home eagerly awaiting my return.
Viva Soft was one of the few non-financial businesses located within the Trade Center. They had a large portion of the 21st floor and their Manhattan office housed their technical support department, their marketing department and a number of programmers.
Emmett was normally based out of his Texas head office but made the trip to his New York branch office for the specific purpose of meeting me in person to discuss eMemories. From the looks of the paper work that he had sent me, they were extremely impressed with the program and seemed ready to make a deal to put it into production and to begin marketing it. I hoped to gain financial security from the whole project and it looked as if that was going to happen.
A few minutes before our initial meeting, I caught an elevator to the 21st floor of Tower One. After a quick scan of the floor directory, I headed down the corridor to Emmett's office.
"May I help you sir?" the pleasant sounding receptionist asked as I approached the front counter.
"Yes, my name is Tom Davis and I have an appointment to see Emmett Hastings," I replied.
"Oh yes, Mr. Davis. They are expecting you," she said with a smile and picked up her phone. "Emmett, Tom Davis is here," she said a moment later. "Yes sir, I'll bring him right in."
"Could I get you a coffee or a bottle of water?" she asked as she led me towards the conference room.
"A bottle of water would be wonderful," I replied.
We made a quick stop at the kitchen and Angie, the receptionist, handed me a bottle of water and then showed me into the board room. Emmett was already there and there were two other men seated at the table.
"Tom," Emmett said gregariously, "It's great to see you again."
"It's great to see you again too," I replied as we shook hands.
"This is Stephen Reynolds the head of our marketing department," Emmett said as he introduced me to the man on his left.
"Pleased to meet you Stephen," I said and shook hands with the man.
"This is Martin Winkler," Emmett said indicating the man to his right. "Martin is our lead software architect."
"Nice to meet you Martin," I said and shook the man's hand.
I took a seat and placed my laptop on the table in front of me. I also extracted a note pad from my laptop case.
"I figured that we'd have sort of an informal discussion this afternoon to go over some of the basics and then we'd spend most of tomorrow getting down to brass tacks. I tend to be an early riser and if you're game I'd like for the four of us to meet over breakfast tomorrow morning at 7 AM in the Windows on the World Restaurant upstairs," Emmett said. "They serve some of the best breakfast around."
"That works for me," I replied with a smile.
"Emmett, we're certainly familiar with your odd fixation on early morning meetings," Marin said with a chuckle. "I'm sure I speak for both of us when I say that you can count us in."
"Agreed," Stephen said with a smile.
"So what do you think of New York so far?" Emmett asked.
"Pretty fast paced," I replied.
Emmett laughed deeply. "No kidding. Back home in Texas we tend to take things a lot easier and a lot less serious than the folks here do," he replied.
"The hotel is great," I added. "I really must thank you for putting me up there and going to the expense of flying me down here."
"You're more than welcome," Emmett replied. "I should thank you for giving us the opportunity to be a part of eMemories. We've spend the past couple of months going over the program and I definitely speak for all of us when I say that we are truly impressed."
"The code is elegant and concise and very efficient. I can't believe that code of that quality was done by one or two guys working on it part time," Martin said. "You are to be congratulated."
"From a purely marketing point of view, this is potentially gold. We could be looking at the next big thing in software. Maybe the next 'killer app'," Stephen added.
I tried not to show too much emotion (as advised by Andy) but inside I was just beaming. Everything that I was hearing was leading me to believe that we were looking at a bigger deal than I ever imagined.
We spent the next two hours discussing the architecture of the program, possibilities for additional features, marketing concepts and even target markets. By the time I left the office and headed back to my hotel, I felt as if I was walking on air.
Since I had missed my run that morning, I suited up in my running gear and headed down to Battery Park for a quick run to clear my head and have some time to think. Emmett had laid out in broad terms several possibilities for how we could get eMemories to market. I could sell the program outright to Viva Soft, I could sell rights to it in exchange for a lump sum payment plus royalties or we could come up with some sort of partnership arrangements. Andy had discussed similar options with me and he strongly suggested that the royalty arrangement while resulting in a smaller up-front payment was probably the best long term option.
Battery Park is right at the southern tip of lower Manhattan and is named for the fact that the Dutch and eventually the British had stationed artillery batteries there at various times. It's also the location of a water taxi service over to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
After seeing the sights of the park and taking a brief run, I decided to take the Water Taxi over to Ellis Island to see the statue up close. As I stood on the deck of the boat, I couldn't help but feel very alone. Normally when doing this sort of thing I'd have Josh and even Bryan and Mark close by. I made sure to take lots of photos to share with them when I returned and I made a mental note to call each of them that evening.
I had just taken a really nice photo of the Trade Center when my phone chirped in my hand. I looked at the call display and saw Josh's cell phone number. It was almost as if he had read my mind.
"Hey Dad," he said happily after I answered.
"Hey bud, I was just thinking about you," I said.
"I was thinking about you too," Josh replied. "I miss you."
"I miss you too kiddo. I wish you were with me."
"I wish you were home," Josh said softly.
"Don't worry kiddo," I said. "I'll be home before you know it probably with a big fat cheque in my pocket."
"The cheque will be nice but I can't wait to hug you."
"Same here bud. I'm taking lots of pictures for you. The hotel is beautiful. It's right between the two towers of the World Trade Center."
"That's those big tall towers right?"
"Yep. Guess where I am now?"
"I'm on a boat crossing over to Ellis Island to see the Statue of Liberty," I said.
"Cool!" Josh exclaimed. "I'd love to see that."
"Tomorrow morning, I'm meeting Emmett again on top of Tower One for breakfast at a place called 'Windows on the World restaurant'."
"That sounds like the restaurant that we went to on top of the CN tower," Josh said.
"Kind of," I replied. "Not quite as high and it doesn't revolve though."
We talked for a few more minutes before we hung up and I disembarked from the boat and made my way to the base of the Statue of Liberty. Inside the base of the statue is a museum that details the history of the statue as well as the various symbols that it represents. Amongst the attractions in the museum is a plaque containing a sonnet called 'The New Colossus' written by 'Emma Lazarus'. The sonnet's most famous line and the words most clearly associated with the statue reads "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,"
I had chills reading that. The whole statue was symbolic of what the United States represents to so many people around the world. The torch held high by lady Liberty is very symbolic of the fact that to many people around the world, the United States is a beacon of freedom, security and prosperity. It's a place that many downtrodden, abused and enslaved people dream of. I felt proud to have such a nation as a friend and neighbor.
After making my way to the top of the statue and taking plenty of photos along the way, I headed down and caught the next water taxi back to Battery Park and made my way back to the hotel. After showering and changing clothes, I ordered room service and then picked up my cell phone to call Bryan.
"Tom! How are things going in the Big Apple?" Bryan asked after we exchanged greetings.
I took a moment to fill him in on the meeting that afternoon as well as the plans for the next day.
"That sounds even better than I was expecting," he replied. "You hanging in ok all alone down there?"
"Yeah, I'm managing," I said. "Josh is pretty anxious for me to return home though," I said.
"We all are," Bryan said.
"How's Mark doing?"
"He's great as always. He flew up to Cold Lake today as part of that school trip. He and Michael are up there with a few other kids getting to observe the military in action for a couple of days. It's some sort of school program for promising students with an interest in joining the military as a career."
"Good for him," I said sincerely. "I'll bet he's having the time of his life up there with all those fighters and things."
After we exchanged small talk for another ten minutes or so, there was a knock at my door as my dinner arrived. "Sounds like dinner's here," I said. "I've gotta run. Love ya Bry."
"Love you too Tom. Take care of yourself ok?"
"I will," I said and we hung up.
After eating, I considered going out to explore the city, but instead I decided to stay in and watch a movie from the selection in the hotel's extensive entertainment system. I ended up watching a couple of light comedy's before turning in. I also called the front desk and asked for a 5:30 AM wakeup call. I wanted to be fully awake and ready to go when I met with the Viva Soft people up in the top of Tower One. The meetings that were set for that day had the potential to set the whole family on solid financial footing for the rest of our lives.
The next morning I awoke just ahead of my wakeup call. Outside, the sun was rising on what promised to be a bright and sunny September morning. I showered and dressed in a dark business suit and a maroon tie. At around quarter to seven, I left the room and headed over to Tower One. I thought about calling Josh but figured that he'd be busy getting ready for school. I felt confident and thrilled to be making such progress with the program.
Something ominous was still niggling in the back of my mind, but I just couldn't place it.
I was quite surprised at how much activity was already going on at that early hour of the day. People were rushing all over the place and deliveries were being made to the stores and restaurants on the concourse level. Windows on the World was on the 106th and 107th floors of the North tower. I lucked in and managed to catch an express elevator that took me right to the 106th floor. When I arrived, I entered the restaurant and took a moment to savor the view while I waited to be seated.
Emmett, Stephen and Martin were already there and waiting when I arrived.
"This is quite the view from up here," I said.
"I never get tired of seeing it. It's such a beautiful day today too," Emmett remarked.
The waitress handed me a cup of coffee and a menu as soon as I sat down. It only took me a moment to make my choice and we all placed our orders. We exchanged small talk until our food arrived and then we got down to business as we ate.
We spent the next hour discussing the various options and the pros and cons of each. We didn't discuss dollar amounts yet and we agreed to decide on the best course of action first and then negotiate an acceptable dollar figure afterwards at the office downstairs.
The restaurant as quite full and there was some sort of convention going on in part of it. It seemed to be the place that a lot of workers from the entire World Trade Center complex enjoyed their breakfast each morning. The food was really good and they served generous portions. I decided that I wanted to come back one day and bring Josh, Mark and Bryan as well.
It was a perfect morning and everything was going far better than I had dared to hope until 8:38 AM.
"I think then that we can all agree that the best course of action is going to be for Viva Soft to purchase the rights to the software and agree to pay a royalty to Tom on all future sales of the product. We'll also agree to retain Tom's services in continuing design and development work of the project."
I was listening to Emmett speak and trying to contain my growing excitement when it happened. As clear as I could hear Emmett speaking, I heard my father's voice in my head.
"SON, LEAVE THAT BUILDING! GET OUT RIGHT NOW!" It was as plain as day and I could sense real urgency in the voice. It rattled me to my core.
|"Tom, are you ok?" Emmett asked suddenly. "You look kind of pale."
"YOU HAVE TO LEAVE THAT BUILDING. LEAVE RIGHT NOW!" I heard my Dad's voice again. I almost stood up and turned around to see who was playing a cruel trick on me.
"I'm not sure. I think I need some fresh air. Can we take a break and continue this down at the office in a few minutes?"
"SON, GET UP AND WALK OUT RIGHT NOW. THERE IS NO TIME!" my Dad's voice echoed again in my head. I stood up on unsteady legs and grasped the table for support.
"Sure Tom," Emmett said sounding concerned. "Grab the elevator down and get some air. Meet us in the office in about half an hour."
"Why don't you guys come down and join me?" I asked.
"I'll take care of the bill and maybe I'll join you downstairs."
"I'll join you as far as the 21st floor," Stephen said.
"SON YOU MUST LEAVE THAT BUILDING RIGHT NOW," I heard my Dad repeat his warning.
I had no idea why I was hearing his voice in my head, but I had a strong feeling of dread as I walked to the bank of elevators and once again caught the express elevator down.
My heart was hammering in my chest as I rode the elevator down to the lobby. The sense of dread that I had been feeling kicked into overdrive. The memories of my dad overwhelmed me as the vividness of his warnings replayed in my mind. I couldn't wait to get out of that building. I didn't understand what was going on, but it was scaring the livin' bejeebers out of me.
A few minutes later, I stepped off the elevator in the main lobby and was about to head out to the street when I heard the roar of jet engines. A moment later there was a huge thud followed by the continuous blast of a huge explosion.
The entire building shook as if a powerful earthquake had struck at just that moment. I heard the sound of shattering glass and huge marble panels detach from the lobby walls and crash to the ground. People in the lobby screamed and ran for cover. Looking outside, I saw a flurry of papers and debris began to rain down onto the street level.
I felt a blast of hot wind from the direction of the elevator and I moved away into the main part of the lobby just as an elevator door opened and two people screaming in pain and terror burst out enveloped in flame. The sound of their screams was the most horrible thing that I'd ever heard and it is a sound that will haunt me for the rest of my life.
I grabbed a fire extinguisher that had fallen out of its housing and I quickly doused the flames as several other people tried to help the pair as best they could. Despite being fully trained and certified in first aid, I had never seen such terrible burns before and I knew that those two unfortunate souls were not going to make it.
All around me there were screams of terror and pain and I could hear the sound of approaching sirens. Stairwell doors flew open and a steady stream of people began to race out. At first the people were largely uninjured but looked terrified. Before long the walking wounded began to appear. People blackened by soot and bleeding from various wounds began to make their way down from the upper floors. Everyone had the same terrified and bewildered look on their faces.
Firefighters, police officers, and paramedics swarmed the lobby, but it was obvious that they were overwhelmed by the number of casualties. I did the best that I could to help as many people as I could. I tried to stay out of the way while I did what I could to assist the injured as they streamed out of the stairwells.
Outside I heard a loud crashing sound followed by three more in rapid succession. I couldn't figure out what was making such loud crashes - it sounded like car crashes without the usual screech of tires and honking of horns. I walked to one of the few unbroken lobby windows and looked out just as a body slammed into the ground and virtually disintegrated on impact.
It was then that I knew what was causing that horrible crashing sound and I wondered silently how bad it must be upstairs that jumping to a certain death was their best choice. I knew that the horrible crashing sound would also haunt my nightmares for the rest of my life.
Time seemed to slow down in all that activity. Before long firefighters closed off the lobby and directed people to exit the building through the concourse level downstairs. The danger from falling bodies and debris was too great to have people exit onto the street level.
I was just about to head down into the concourse when I again heard the roar of jet engines. The sound was so loud that it almost defied belief. A second later, I heard the explosion and felt the building shake again. It wasn't as strong as the first impact and I knew it had to be the second tower.
At that instant, I knew that what had happened was no accident. When the first plane hit, I naturally assumed that it had been a horrible mistake. The second impact erased all doubt. A deliberate attack was taking place and I was right in the thick of it.
I overheard several police officers talking and learned that the first plane had hit the tower at around the 89th floor and that everyone above that level, including those in the Windows on the World restaurant were trapped. I felt weak in the knees and I quickly sat down on a bench to catch my breath. I knew now that somehow my father had saved me from certain death in that tower. For a moment, I considered fleeing the building along with the others, but then I reconsidered.
Perhaps I had been saved for a reason. Perhaps that reason was to do what I could to help others. I elected to stay for as long as I could to help as many people as I could.
I followed the crowd down into the concourse and began searching out injured and distressed people and assisted them with getting through the crowds and out of the building. I had been doing that for about twenty minutes when a burly NYPD cop approached me.
"Thanks for the help but you need to get out of here too," the cop said.
I pulled out my wallet and showed the police officer my military ID. "Sir, I'm a Captain in the Canadian Armed Forces and I'm certified in first aid and I am willing to help. I know the risks, but I really think I can help people."
"Captain Canada eh?" he said and thought for a moment. "Ok, you can stay. Just stick close to me and if anyone gives you any crap, send them to me."
For another forty minutes, that officer and I, along with dozens of others continued to help people out of the building. I saw a constant flood of desperate, terrified, and badly injured people, but I also saw something else. While stuck in the middle of the results of the worst that humanity can offer, I saw signs of the best in people. I saw strangers working together. I saw people coming together to help each other survive. I saw a side of a big city that many people never knew even existed.
I had just escorted a man who had been virtually blinded by flying debris to the door when I felt the ground begin to shake under my feet. At the same time I heard a loud rumbling sound punctuated by repeated crashing noises. The ground began to shake more and more violently and the noise got louder and louder. My teeth were rattling inside my mouth and I had to cling to the door to avoid falling over as the ground shook violently. It was as if the entire world was shaking itself apart. Inside, a hot smoky smelling wind burst out from the south end of the concourse in the direction of the south tower.
I tried to steady myself as a crowd of firefighters ran past ushering everyone before them out of the concourse. Knowing that I could do no more good, I raced up the stopped escalators for the main floor of Tower One. I got about half-way there when I was enveloped in a choking cloud of dust and smoke. Coughing and gagging, I managed to make it to the safety of the ground level just as the rumbling stopped. It was 9:59 AM and the south tower had just collapsed into a smoking ruin.
Blinded by the thick cloud of cloying dust, I made my way to the wall and braced myself as I coughed and coughed. I had a second to consider what I was breathing into my lungs when I a group of firefighters with a light approached.
"Jesus Christ!" a firefighter shouter. "The whole God damned tower just came down. We need everyone out of here pronto!"
I joined a crowd of survivors who had evacuated the north tower and we followed a group of firefighters who were looking for a safe exit. Outside the debris continued to rain down and so did the bodies of those who jumped or fell from above. Inside the lobby, the dust cloud settled and turned the once immaculate space into a grim moonscape devoid of any colour except grey.
We waited inside the lobby while the firefighters checked the status of a foot bridge that they hoped would shelter us from debris from above as we exited the building. I looked around and for the first time began to see real fear in the faces of the emergency personnel and the survivors alike. We knew that Tower Two had been hit second, but came down first. As far as we knew Tower One was about to come down on us. We all knew that it was only a matter of time until the north tower came down as well. I felt like I was standing next to a ticking time bomb, but couldn't see the timer to know how much time I had left.
As I stood there waiting for the all clear, I thought of Josh. I thought of Bryan and of Mark and all my loved ones. If I was going to die in that building, I wanted to go out thinking of them. I wasn't really afraid for myself. I was more afraid for them. The thought of what it would do to Josh if I died nearly broke my heart.
After a few minutes, the firefighters returned and escorted us out of the tower and under the footbridge. As we walked, I tried hard not to notice the sad crumpled remains of the bodies that littered the ground around me. More images that will forever be burned into my mind.
It was at that moment that I thought of Emmett, Stephen, and Martin. Stephen had gone down to the office but as far as I knew, Emmett and Martin had still been in the restaurant when the plane hit. I hoped that they made it out, but I knew that it was unlikely.
As we got clear of the building and onto the debris strewn West St, I looked back at where the south tower used to stand. I also looked at the wreckage of the hotel that I had been staying in. Both had been reduced to a smoking pile of debris. I shuddered when I contemplated how many people had been in that south tower when it came down and how many remained buried in the burning wreckage.
One small mercy was that I had all of my really important property such as my laptop with me. Thinking about my laptop made me remember my cell phone suddenly. By now everyone would know what had happened and they'd be frantic. I tried to get a signal to call out but the whole system was jammed. Even worse, my battery was running very low. It died just as I had finished dialing Bryan's number.
I glanced at my watch and saw that it was 10:29 AM. I barely started to cross West Street when suddenly that horrible rumbling sound started again. Once again the ground began to shake violently under my feet. I glanced over my shoulder just in time to see the broadcast tower at the top of Tower One disappear into a growing cloud of dust and debris. It was a horrifying sight and everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. I began to run as fast as I could north on West Street towards Vesey.
I just barely reached the intersection when I realized that I had no chance of outrunning the debris cloud and I ducked into a small caf‚ on the opposite side of the street and hoped for the best. I was about to duck under a table when I happened to glance up and saw an injured young woman frantically trying to outrun the debris in high heeled shoes.
She was well dressed and I guessed that she had worked in one of the towers. As the debris began to rain down, I realized that she would surely die on that street if she didn't get to cover.
Without a second's hesitation, I ran toward the door of the caf‚. A burly voice behind me shouted, "Don't go back out there man, YOU'LL GET KILLED!"
"I gotta do it," I yelled back as I ran out the door and into the street. I'd seen too many dead people this morning and I didn't want to see another one.
I grabbed the terrified and very surprised woman just as she tripped down to the pavement. I grabbed her around her waist and lifted her as the debris cloud engulfed us. I couldn't see, but I could feel her slip again and I grabbed her wrist and shouted for her to hang on. I felt her grab my wrist and all I could do was pull in the direction of what I thought was the front of the caf‚, but the dust cloud made it impossible for me to see. My eyes were burning, my mouth felt parched, and I coughed every time I tried to breathe in. I felt something hard hit my ass, but I kept going as fast as I could dragging this poor woman. Then I felt a searing burning pain in my left bicep as a chunk of sharp debris came flying by, but still I ran dragging my burden as fast as I could until I hit what I thought was a wall. It moved and I felt an arm around me, pulling me.
"HANG ON TO HER!" the familiar burly voice shouted as he dragged me and the woman. I couldn't see - I couldn't breathe - all I could do was collapse. I could hear chunks of concrete, glass shards and giant steel girders crashing to the ground and although the air seemed slightly fresher, I felt trapped inside a stifling choking blackness.