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The vision was always started the same:
A strong, certain woman walking toward me through the falling, blown snow.
Definite, measured steps brought that mystery woman closer.
A pace I was familiar with, somehow.
And yet vulnerable.
Her sleeveless dress and soft flat shoes would be soaked by these moist white flakes by the time she reached me. Within minutes after, she'd be shivering in the gusts that blew her long hair about her shoulders, and make the long hem of her dress flap like a battle pennant.
Just as her walk was that of a conqueror.
Her play was not a calculated risk or a chess stratagem.
She knew my responses. My gallantry will make me take off my heavy overcoat and wrap it close around her. And she will then fold into my arms as I direct us toward the nearest warm doorway.
She knew, I knew - not a number any longer.
I shouldn't have been surprised to see the wreckage of that explosion.
But I was. We were. The man who in a short time had become my friend and protector – and me.
He seemed to hide any reaction to it – or honestly didn't have any.
All of my professional life and career was in those ruins.
We were there to reconnoiter, to weigh and evaluate the occurrence, to re-experience the devastation first hand.
The wreckage seemed absolute.
If I found anything that survived that firestorm to take with me, it would have to fit into my hands or pockets.
The many books, anything combustible – those were gone. Anything plastic or fusible – they were melted or also gone to ash.
The blast-temperature was high enough that little was left. Even the floor was somewhat buckled from the blast heat warping the steel beams beneath it, plus the weight of the pooled water the fire department used to extinguish it.
The brisk fall winds had now evaporated or blown most all of the water and ash out that wide open hole in the side of that building.
My friend and rescuer was here for his own reasons. And I came along, like I did everywhere now. Because his immediate future was also mine, like it or not.
He only stood there now, turning and peering into what we could see. Statuesque, but not a statue.
As I stepped carefully among the husks of furniture and fallen remnants of building materials, my polished street shoes were becoming the color of that muddy ash.
For it was raining again, and the wind blew that rain back through the open gap where floor-to-ceiling windows once stood to keep all weather out on that corner office.
Of course, I was past crying about almost anything left of my former life now. The wetness on my cheek had to be rain or blown mist. Had to be.
My foot kicked something that tinkled, so I stopped.
The dim light showed some glint in all that sooty ash. We carried no flashlights, nothing to give anyone a clue that we were there. Streetlights and the surrounding buildings gave us any light to see by.
A break in the clouds brought the full moon's light across our scene.
At my muddy toe was a small globe that used to sit in it's little clear Plexiglas perch on my desktop.
I bent, picked it up and wondered if what it held inside was still intact.
Shaking it, I heard the rattle. Just maybe.
I started to twist and unscrew its two halves, my hands slipping without getting a grip.
But then he took my arm...