COUNTDOWN: Day minus 10
* * * Monday, 1:30 PM * * *
Framed by high cirrus clouds scattered across a crystal blue sky, the San Gabriel Mountains appeared as tranquil peaks of the not-so-distant range. The typical haze of the Los Angeles basin had blown out to sea leaving in its wake a radiant sky. Inspired by the rare view, Roy Santana could only dream of a mountain get-away and the freshness of its pine trees filling his each and every breath. Instead of racing to pursue those dreams, Roy nervously idled on a freeway on-ramp while the sculptured highlands enticed his soul. Time off in the forest would have to wait for another day, another time. Soon, he hoped.
Second in line for a green light, Roy tapped his fingers on his leather-wrapped steering wheel, wishing he wasn't so late for work. Ten extra minutes right now would take the pressure off his commute and a week in the mountains would take the pressure off his life. He held his frustration in check, yet his patience wore thin. Freeways! If they're so free, he thought, then I should be on this one already!
Needing a break from the stress of waiting in traffic, Roy focused on the serenity of the view before him. It's so clear today, I can see the airplanes lined-up for LAX. Suddenly he was attacked by the shadow of a jumbo jet lumbering overhead. So massive that even from seven thousand feet up it still looked very close. That must be Quantas inbound from Australia, Roy thought, identifying the aircraft by its distinctive markings. If only I were on that jet returning from two weeks Down Under!
A second jet approached the line-up from the east. Roy had seen this a thousand times before; aircraft from the Pacific are turned north over Catalina Island and blended into a westbound final as far away as Ontario. Each one headed for the same destination, the Los Angeles International Airport. Yet to Roy, something didn't seem right.
What's that guy doing? Roy judged the relationship of the jets in the sky, they're too close, but from his vantage point, he couldn't accurately determine the distance between them. Surely the controllers will work it out. Roy anxiously inched his car forward. All the while, his eyes glued to the distant sky. Come on, you guys! Turn the Quantas or there's gonna be a deal. The thought of a deal made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Helplessly Roy watched the scenario unfold.
Suddenly, he shouted in fear, "Shit! They're gonna cra...!"
Just then a bright light flashed mid-sky, followed by a ball of smoke. Then, in rapid succession, two secondary explosions added more smoke and fire. Roy was fixed to his windshield, eyes wide open, and he didn't dare blink or look away. Streaks of burning debris fell from the billowing cloud, blazing a line of fire until they struck the earth, then exploding with even greater intensity. Showers of ignited aluminum and bits of aircraft rained a fiery hell on an unsuspecting city.
Suddenly, a loud honk from a car's horn grabbed Roy's attention. If only for a second, he glanced in his rear-view mirror and saw the driver gesturing for him to move up. Roy couldn't care less about an impatient driver. Two airliners just crashed and you're pushing me? Turning back to the sky, Roy saw nothing. No residual smoke suspended in the air, no plumes of fire streaking from the wreckage. Nothing, but blue sky.
A brief moment passed. Gathering his senses, Roy wiped the sweat from his face. My God, I haven't had a wide awake nightmare since my training days at the academy. Stress, it must be stress. He looked at his watch. Shit! I'm gonna be late! He moved up in line, wondering if he would ever fall victim to the holocaust of a deal.
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