02-25-2012, 07:35 PM
Blinded by smoke and drenched by the fire sprinklers, Carey stumbled out of her hotel room by order of the security guards and was herded to the stairwell along with the other guests on her floor. Down, down, down the neverending stairs to the lobby, then out the back doors into fresh air, smoke billowing in their wake. Staff and guests milled around the perimeter of the huge black pyramid, wondering to themselves what had happened. A few children wailed in fear, their mothers clutching them to their bosoms. There were muttered references to Nine-Eleven in New York among the traumatized crowd. Some made the best of a bad situation by lighting up a cigarrette and biding their time until the all clear was given.
A sandpaper-scalped Bible thumper found himself a captive audience and got on his bully pulpit, taking advantage of the anxiety caused by whatever had happened inside to preach his brand of hellfire-and-brimstone Christianity. It was Divine Judgement on this City of Sin, he said, God's righteous wrath against the fleshpeddlers and sodomites and theves who preyed on the innocent and cheated them out of their money in their devilish games that everyone knew were rigged so that no one won except the godless casinos. This was a warning, he said, and if they all turned to righteousness, they would be spared furthur torment.
Carey ignored him. The first fifteen years of her life were spent being bombarded by such claptrap as this. As a result she had given up on organized religion and its narrow view of life, rejecting its tenets of prejudice and one-sided arguements regarding morality. She was not an atheist but leaned toward reason more than faith, though she did not discount the latter; she knew faith was a powerful force that could move mountains, metaphoically speaking. If it bought comfort to the faithful, she had no qualms about it. It was the zealots like this guy who gave religion a bad name.
She sat on a concrete berm next to an elderly woman clutching a rosary with trembling, withered hands. It's a wonder she didn't die of a heart attack, poor thing, Carey thought. She deduced the old woman's room was closer to the lobby; the strain of going down all those stairs did not prove to be a hardship to her. Carey refrained from starting a conversation with her. God shield I should disturb devotion, she said to herself.
The Bible-thumping bully, meanwhile, had made his way to the berm where Carey and the old woman sat. Spying the rosary beads in the old woman's hands, he snatched them away from her and dashed them to the concrete, crushing them under the heel of his heavy workboot. "Idolatry!" he thundered, heedless of the old woman's tearful protests. "Godless, pagan idolatry!"
An outraged Carey jumped up to her defense. "Now wait just a minute, there, buster! You can't go around stamping on other people's faiths like that! This is a free country, remember? For all I care, you can worship a horse's ass so long as you're a law-abiding citizen!"
"Blasphemy!" the zealot cried. "Your liberal, godless ways will send you to Hell, woman! You and the rest of you liberal socialist heathens!"
"Ah, save it for Sunday!" Carey sneered, refusing to get into a fruitless argument with someone so narrow-minded.
At that point, the all clear was given, and the relieved guests got up and reentered the hotel. Carey escorted her aged companion, still weeping over her crushed rosary, back inside. She would fix her a cup of tea or something, help her relax; this was too much stress for such an elderly woman. How old was she? Seventy? Eighty? She must have a pretty strong constitution to endure all this, Carey thought.
One small problem surfaced: Carey didn't know where the old woman's room was. In fact, she didn't evern know her name. Carey turned to the old woman. "Ma'am? Where is your room? I'll take you there if you want."
The old woman sniffled. "I'll be fine, dear. I can go back up myself."
"You sure, now? Can I get you anything?"
"I'm fine, dear, thank you."
Carey reluctantly left the old woman at the bank of elevators, debating with herself whether or not she should follow, just in case. Her charge stepped into the elevator car, the doors sealing her inside, preventing Carey from offering any furthur assisance.
She sighed and turned away, and as she did so she caught sight of the fire damage in the atrium. Shattered glass littered the blackened, burned carpeting, the indoor plants reduced to ashes. Shop and restaraunt windows were blown in as far as the banquet rooms and elevators. In the very center of the atrium, cordoned off with police tape, were the charred remains of an automobile frame, parts of which lay scattered about like bones in the desert. The most sickening sight of all was the three body bags lying to one side. Who are they? she wondered. She looked up, distracted by the constant movement beyond the atrium.
Carey discovered that the Grand Ballroom had been transformed into a makeshift hospital for the injured. Paramedics and Red Cross volunteers tended to the burned and wounded while hotel staff rushed in and out, fetching pillows, sheets, blankets, towels, soap and basins of hot water. Friends and families stayed at the sides of their injured loved ones, comforting them as only they could.
One such family, the Sarantakos clan, huddled around their son and brother, Costa, who, Carey learned from one of the hotel attendants, had shielded his mother from the blast of the explosion with his own body and had suffered gashes from flying glass. Now he sat on a hotel mattress while his elderly mother tended to his lacerated flesh. Costa was in good spirits, making light of his injuries while wincing from the sting of antiseptic. His two brothers, JD and Criss (Carey recognized him immediatly, having first seen him in the atrium after dinner), praised Costa's heroism. Costa merely shrugged it off, stating that anyone would have done the same under the circumstances.
Carey left the ballroom-cum-hospital; she had no business in there--she'd just be in the way. This is one helluva way to begin a vacation, she thought. It was obvious the number one question on everybody's mind was who was responsible for this horror inflicted upon these innocent people?
She mentally lined up the usual suspects. Terrorists? After Nine-Eleven, that was not too far fetched. But wouldn't they target government or military posts instead of a hotel? A mob hit? Organized crime and gambling went as far back as Al Capone. But killing innocent bystanders was bad for business, if what they did could be described as such. They would have simply focused on a single person and made it look like an accident, if they made it look like anything at all. If not mobsters or terrorists, then who did it?
Even worse, Carey thought with a growing feeling of dread, would he, or they, strike again?