Tommy moved over to the counter and rubbed his eyes wearily. What a nightmare. His mind was totally overwhelmed. He checked his wristwatch and spat on the plastic face to clear the layer of sediment that had settled there. The fake Seiko he had bought for ten dollars somewhere in China town looked even crappier now than when he originally bought it from the really pushy Asian stallholder.
"Good watch. Man like you need good watch. Ten bucks? Whaddya say?"
Good watch my ass. Good rice at the 'Jasmine Tree' though he pondered. The cheap LCD screen flickered, dimly showing 00:19, 9/12/01. Have I really been awake for 24 hours? The math eluded him and as his mind raced trying to work out the exact length of his exhaustion, he swore he could actually hear his body screaming for him to lie down.
"Help me. I'm trapped. Please… I don't wanna die. Mister, rescue me…"
A voice drifted through the eerie calm of the kitchen area and Tommy spun round. He was alone. The room was empty, apart from the flakes of mud, dust and coffee that were scattered across the linoleum floor. He wasn't sure whether he was crazy from fatigue, or whether his old associate Jim Beam was playing tricks on him again. Twelve months dry and now you're back in with Jim and Jack. What you playing at Tommy boy?
he said aloud, not realising he was talking to himself. What Tommy has witnessed over the past day and night was beyond the help of anything or anyone and he found little comfort in his drinking, yet he felt compelled to continue, grimacing as the rough whiskey hit his tonsils.
"Tommy. Have you heard? O'Reilly didn't make it. He died on the way to the O.R This thing's getting worse."
This time the voice was real. Franco, one of Tommy's young friends limped in and placed his hand on Tommy's tense shoulder and reluctantly fixed gazes with the man who seemed to be in another place. Far removed from the blue and white kitchen surfaces of the New York City firehouse, Tommy's mind was flashing with images of death. Distress. Hopelessness…Help me. I'm trapped. Please… I don't wanna die. Mister, rescue me…
"Tommy?" Franco enquired wearily, sensing his colleague was oblivious to his presence. "Gavin?"
Tommy's distant eyes focussed, the usual blue pigment so discoloured with dirt and bloodshot capillaries that his eyes watered as he looked at his friend.
"Yeah. I heard. Has anyone spoken to Helen?"
Franco shook his head.
"No. The chief is going to have to sort that out. There's too many missing to know… Too many families… I don't really…"
He stopped mid-sentence and sighed, tears welling in his tired eyes. Tommy's usual gruff tone softened slightly, but his contempt for public-displays of emotion remained in an attempt to hide the fact that he felt like curling up in a ball and sobbing in his wife's lap,
"Don't be a pussy. Get a grip Rivera. We still have a lot more shit to deal with."
Franco was fooled by Tommy's apparent detachment, asserting that it was Tommy's professionalism that kept him so calm. Sniffling, he nodded and, after placing his bloody flashlight down on the counter, he walked out of the room muttering what sounded like a prayer as Tommy looked at the TV in disbelief. The picture was not pretty, and the immaculately dressed FOX news anchor was in ironic juxtaposition to the chaotic, filthy backdrop of piles of rubble and bodies. And as he gulped down another mouthful of bourbon, he began to weep. Quietly. In an insular, pensive state he wept uncontrollably. He fell to his knees, his already battered body hardly twitching as he hit the stained floor, one more bruise hardly noticeable. Help me. I'm trapped. Please… I don't wanna die. Mister, rescue me…
The room was spinning. His head landed underneath the wooden table that was dead centre in the room, his sweat-drenched helmet rattled at the impact and he uttered,
as an alcohol-exhaustion induced sleep embalmed him. What followed were not dreams, nor did they provide a temporary medium of ignorance. Tommy was drowned in a vivid, inescapable realisation of what had occurred.
Deep in cognition, one word, one person permeated his thoughts,
As suddenly as he had fallen asleep he awoke, exchanging one nightmare for another as he startled, beads of sweat dripping between his eyelashes and running down the sides of his nose he shrieked as loud as his whiskey dried throat would allow,
"Jimmy! Jimmy Keefe! You're alive! Thank almighty God!"
The room was empty. Tommy's phantasmagoric state engulfed whatever sense of reality that was left within his psyche and for a full three minutes he stared at his cousin who was sat at the dingy folding table with his legs crossed, reading the New York Times.
"Hey Tommy. 'Sup?"
Jimmy looked up and put his paper down. Tommy had not broken his gaze. Jimmy's hands were cut and his face looked pretty beat up. Tommy began to speak, his throat stinging from the alcohol and Jimmy's apparition moved over him. Consciousness drifted away from him and in a surprisingly halcyon tone, Jimmy smiled and said,
"Been drinking again Tommy boy?"