September 11, 2001, is starting off like any other day. By 5:15 a.m., Cameron Burke, a Vietnam vet and member of the military intelligence special operations unit, is running along the Potomac. As he completes his run and mentally plans his day, Cameron has no idea that in mere hours, everything will change-not only for him, but for everyone in the world.
After realizing he has already cheated death by not arriving at the Pentagon early that morning, Cameron receives orders from the President to find who committed the catastrophic terrorist acts against the United States. Meanwhile, as New York Times reporter Josselyn Jeffrey slowly makes her way through the horror as the South Tower falls, she only has one regret in life-losing Cameron, the love of her life. As Cameron and Josselyn muddle their way through the aftermath, they each recall their moments shared together and the years they lived apart. Now only time will tell if destiny and a life-changing tragedy have the power to bring the two lovers together once again.
Arise, O Phoenix is a story of love's indomitable power and the triumph of the human spirit that both rise from the ashes of 9/11 to remind us all of the only things that truly matter in life.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.64(d)|
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Arise, O Phoenixa novel
By Lisa K. Drucker
Universe, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Lisa Karen Drucker
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBook I On Our Own Soil
By 5:15 a.m., Cameron Burke was running along the Potomac. He ran every morning, no matter the weather. "Just like the mail," Patricia, his wife, always said. Ex-wife, he hastily corrected himself, wondering when it would become automatic. He could still hear her saying the words, her voice tinged with what he now realized was bitterness, though for years he had thought it was acceptance.
His feet hammered the pavement. He exhaled rhythmically.
Maybe bitterness was too harsh. Maybe it was only resignation.
His pedometer cycled another round.
No, it was bitterness. Better to just accept it and move on. She'd known what he was when she married him: driven, tough, honest, decent. Her description, not his. Within the past year or so, he had suddenly become an inflexible, monomaniacal workaholic. Again, her description. His daughter, Margaret, called him "the casualty of Mom's self-improvement juggernaut."
Burke couldn't help but chuckle at the thought, even though it made his breathing uneven and running more difficult. Margaret was the light of his life, her wry sense of humor a source of constant delight, despite their constant battling over politics and much of what that entailed, which Margaret referred to as "life issues." Nonetheless, she was "her father's daughter," as Patricia always referred to her, and Burke loved it—always had, always would.
His pedometer finished cycling his last round, and he slowed to a walk. Patricia had a lot to say about everything. He'd never realized it until they divorced a little less than a year before, and he shook his head at his own ignorance. He'd missed all the signs, after all, hadn't he? Despite the fact that Margaret assured him Patricia was the loser, not he. "She's my mother, so I can say that," she had punctuated her pronouncement, with the innocent confidence only a twenty-two-year-old can possess. As long as his daughter didn't blame him for the breakup, it didn't matter who else did.
He walked back to his apartment for coffee and a quick shower. He had to be at Langley for a meeting at eight. He was ready for it, though. As always, the run had given him what he needed: clarity, focus, determination. He hoped the meeting at Langley wouldn't run on forever. He had to be back at the Pentagon for another meeting at ten, and didn't relish either one—he hated meetings.
Burke shrugged again, the door to his apartment in sight. September 11 was starting off like any other day. Which could mean anything at all in his line of work, but that was the deal, and he had agreed to it a long time ago.
* * *
Cameron Burke held his head in his hands. How could this have happened? he wondered for the umpteenth time that day. It struck him suddenly that, in the wee hours of December 7, 1941, the day had seemed as innocuous to Americans as had September 11, 2001—until just past 8:46 a.m. eastern daylight time.
Just a few hours before, he'd been finishing his daily run and thinking it was an ordinary day, even though he knew that there was no such thing for anyone who spent his life doing what he did for a living.
Burke lifted his head and swigged now-cold black coffee from an ancient mug, grimacing. No more time to grieve, though. Not for him. He had already received his orders from the president, albeit by means of a few layers of brass—find out who did this, and show no mercy to the perpetrators or to those who harbor them. All Americans would soon be advised of how the president intended to respond to the attacks: protecting our nation in self-defense, finding the perpetrators in order to obtain justice, preserving the ideals and freedoms on which—and for which—our country had been founded. The president's response was in line with Burke's personal reaction, so the orders had come as a blessing. He could focus on the task at hand now, and he felt grateful that it supported his own moral convictions. He hadn't been that fortunate with every mission he'd been assigned to over the years.
Burke refused to let himself think about the friends lost at the Pentagon. Not to mention that if his meeting had been scheduled for nine o'clock instead of ten, he might have been lost too. He knew all too well that survivor guilt could be lethal, so he willed such thoughts out of his consciousness. For his colleagues as well as for Burke, jobs at the Pentagon signified at least a reduction in the danger they had accepted in connection with their chosen work. You might think about dying every day when you were in a war zone or a country hostile toward America and democracy, but you never thought about it in between assignments when stationed on our own soil.
To add to his concern, Margaret was now living by herself in a loft in SoHo (a gift from him and Patricia when Margaret had graduated from Pratt on a full scholarship), where she was able to "refine her art and live by her principles," as she put it. Unable to get through to her by phone, all he could do was pray she was safe. Given Margaret's antiestablishment nature, the Financial District was probably the last place on earth she'd ever be. Burke smiled wryly at the irony of his gratitude for Margaret's dedication to the liberal views that had caused so much contention between them ever since her late adolescence.
As a native New Yorker and former firefighter—and with his cousin, Dylan, and old friends still among New York's Finest and Bravest—Burke feared that all too soon he would be learning of losses close to him, even if Margaret was safe. He prayed that she had to be safe, especially once he'd seen the Twin Towers collapse. There, but for the grace of God, go I, he thought. Had he been near the towers or the Pentagon, unless he'd been rendered unconscious, Burke would have stood with the rescuers, shoulder to shoulder, trying to help as many of the victims as he could. Even with the specter of death and destruction descending and palpable, he would have been among those running into the smoke and flames without hesitating, fighting to save lives while as many as were able to were struggling to escape.
Serving and saving were in his bones. Always had been. He'd been one of New York's Bravest until he went off to Vietnam, where his service led him into the military-intelligence special operations that became his life's work and true calling. Feeling powerless in the wake of the tragedy was the worst part of it for Burke. Not being able to know for sure that Margaret was all right. Not being able to be there saving and serving. Not being able to help during the nation's greatest tragedy, especially when he had been spared by the grace of God, not just that day but in so many other life-threatening situations over the years. He knew he had to get beyond those feelings—guilt, rage, helplessness; sometimes alternating, other times commingling—but right now he didn't know how he would.
Burke had no regrets. Given the chance, he wouldn't change anything he'd done. Except for one thing: Josselyn. If only he had that to do over again.... But he would never get the chance, so it didn't matter.
Shaking his head as if to cast off the recollection, Burke grabbed his bag and swept out of the room without looking back. The best he could do right now was to focus on the enormous task that lay before him and keep putting one foot deliberately in front of the other, every day, until walking—and living—became second nature again. He'd had to learn how to do that once before; he could do it again. He had no choice, then or now.
* * *
Josselyn Jeffrey was downtown, not as a reporter but as a "civilian." That was the way she thought of herself when she wasn't working on a story. A workaholic, such times were few and far between for her. When she wasn't working on a book, she was writing for the New York Times or the New Yorker, or doing something for one of the charities she supported. In fact, on the morning of September 11, she took the subway from Brooklyn Heights to Lower Manhattan to meet with some venture capitalists about a foundation she wanted to set up to promote literacy. Arriving at eight thirty for a nine o'clock meeting at the World Trade Center, she decided to walk around a bit before going inside. At first she thought about going up to Windows on the World, but then she opted to enjoy the fresh air instead.
When the first plane hit, Josselyn Jeffrey was all of two blocks away. Etched forever in her memory—her heart and soul—was the conflagration, followed by the eerie sucking in of air as the plane disappeared into the steel-and-concrete-and-glass bastion of Lower Manhattan; and then, worst of all, the screams and falling bodies, many of them—God save them—in flames. Hellish images far too horrible for the mind to really even process.
On impulse, Josselyn rushed toward the towers, buildings she saw from her brownstone's windows every day and had come to love. Her only thought was not to break the story but to help in whatever way she could. As a reporter, though, she would certainly tell the story, could never resist the compulsion to document what she saw, heard, felt; she related to the world and understood it through her words. She was no stranger to disaster zones, having covered far too many.
She rushed to the towers, moving quickly despite her high heels, as though magnetized toward what she was witnessing, her mind racing between thoughts of how beyond horrible the images flashing before her were, and yet how surreal it all felt. She reached into her bag to find the press badge she always carried with her. Groping, she found it, never breaking her stride as she pulled it out by the chain it hung on. She looped the chain over her head and let it fall around her neck.
Choking on smoke but still pressing on, she suddenly realized what made the whole thing feel so simultaneously horrible and surreal: It was a beautiful day, crystal-clear and sunny. How could a plane hit one of the Twin Towers on a day like this?
She had arisen with the dawn, as usual. From the top floor of her Brooklyn Heights brownstone, she could see the lofty towers and, seemingly suspended between them, a strip of sky limned pink and violet by the rising sun. Josselyn was glad suddenly that she had never taken that daily sight for granted—no matter how many times a day she looked out her window to see the downtown skyline, she was awed by the ingenuity and sheer moxie that American architecture symbolized. It would never be the same again.
The same persistent thought seized her mind: On a clear day, what pilot could crash into one of the Twin Towers? It would be like missing a mountain. True, she hadn't seen the plane actually hit; perhaps the pilot had lost control, and the plane had spun into the tower. No, she had heard a plane; she had looked up, surprised to see it flying so low, but then had not thought about it in the intervening moments—that is, not until she saw flames shooting out of the gaping hole in the North Tower, debris flying from the building, and the airplane disappearing into the inferno. She realized in a fresh burst of horror that part of that debris had been people, immolated in this awful catastrophe. Descriptive words that she had used throughout her career flooded her brain: gruesome, macabre, hellacious, nightmarish, catastrophic, apocalyptic—not a one of them could adequately reflect what was transpiring, or how those witnessing it were feeling and responding. Words failed.
Now, in the midst of the despair and the surreal, hope came at last: people streaming into the street, from the lower floors of the North Tower or from surrounding buildings, she wasn't sure which, and firefighters going in. In that precious moment, hope was a lifeline, actually palpable around her. New York's Bravest had come to save the day, as always. It was no coincidence that the fire department was the only official service bureau in the city that its occupants never cast aspersions on: New York unabashedly adored its firefighters.
Josselyn reached the Twin Towers, and what she saw on the ground sickened her almost beyond what she could endure. It was so horrible, she couldn't even process in her own mind how she felt about what she saw. Images of stories her mother had told her about the Holocaust—the "Shoah," she'd called it—swamped Josselyn suddenly, her memories and the smoke now choking her simultaneously. Don't go there now, she told herself, the deafening din making it impossible for her to know if she'd only thought it or had actually said it aloud. This was some sort of horrible, horrible accident—or something—not the twisted, calculated plot of evil, hate-filled men.
Someone's cries caught Josselyn's attention, and she turned in the direction of the sound. On the curb behind her sat a young woman no more than twenty-five, bloodied and sobbing, the oxygen mask an emergency technician had given her dangling, unused, in her hand.
Josselyn knelt beside the young woman, gently attempting to put the mask on her face.
The young woman, obviously weak from shock, pushed Josselyn's hand away with surprising firmness. Lifting her eyes to meet Josselyn's, she said, "My fiancé works on the 105th floor of the North Tower. I came to meet him for breakfast so we could go over some last-minute additions to the invitation list for our wedding. We were going to have breakfast at Windows on the World. I was supposed to mail all the invitations today." Her sobs overtook her again.
Josselyn wrapped her arms around the young woman, letting her weep.
"He's going to be very upset with you when he finds you aren't using this mask," Josselyn said, feigning a brightness that was the last thing she felt.
"He's never getting out of there. I just know he isn't." Her sobs ceased, giving way to a leaden tone even more heartbreaking. "Whatever hit and cut me might have been part of his office."
"You can't give up hope. There might be a roof rescue like there was in '93." Her coverage of that story rushed back into her mind.
The young woman's expression was inscrutable. Too numb to even know what she felt, Josselyn supposed. "I don't think so. I can only hope that he'll be able to jump. Maybe he already has. Please don't let him have been one of the ones who were on fire, though," she added hastily, clapping her hand over her mouth as she digested the horror of what she'd just said. "Oh God! Please don't let him suffer. Don't let anyone suffer. Let the smoke get to everyone who can't get out." She said this in a calm and steady voice, as if praying, and she seemed to draw strength and serenity from the words.
"Amen," Josselyn said, her voice calm and steady also. She let her heart and soul invoke God, and she drew strength from that, just as the young woman had. Josselyn knew all too well the horror in this young woman's eyes, the horror of imagining someone you loved dying in flames. That same horror had haunted Josselyn's mother for her entire life, spreading to Josselyn in an osmosis of empathy as uncanny as it was undeniable.
"Did you come here to help?" the young woman asked suddenly.
"You can't help me. Maybe there's someone you can help. Keep praying."
The young woman stood, dropping the mask and stumbling off before Josselyn could respond or stop her. Beginning to choke on the fumes engulfing the area, Josselyn picked up the mask, put it on, and pressed forward again, feeling even more helpless than she had when she started toward the towers. She wondered about the ever-thickening miasma pervading the air. It was such an odd color, almost pink; she'd never seen anything like it. She was still mercifully ignorant of the cause of that weird-colored haze, that it arose from the force of the bodies slamming down to the pavement as they catapulted from the tower's windows. She was still innocent of the scientific details of this horror, still feeling and living it raw and unmediated, not yet plagued by the indelible nightmares that would inevitably etch themselves in her mind ... and haunt her forever.
"Here, lady," an emergency technician called out, thrusting a pile of rags into her hand and motioning to an open fire hydrant. "Wet these and hand them out."
Excerpted from Arise, O Phoenix by Lisa K. Drucker Copyright © 2012 by Lisa Karen Drucker. Excerpted by permission of Universe, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Totally enjoyed reading this book. A wonderful love story. Coul not put it down.
So glad this book was recommended to me. Fabulous take on the 9/11 tragedy interwoven with a great love story. I couldn't put it down!