MADISON OPENED THE DOOR and what he saw on the inside confirmed what he’d overheard in the Pentagon’s hallways. There was definitely something going on.
General Blake’s offices resembled a scene straight out of one of his worst nightmares. One that still haunted him.
He had an immediate flashback to Somalia 1993 when he and six Marines had barely eluded being captured saving some imbecilic ambassador ass. It was Black Hawk Down all over again.
“Are you Major Madison?”
He an about 200 other UN peacekeepers had been dropped in Somalia back in ’93 to start the two-year United Nations Operation in Somalia II, known as UNOSOM II under the mandate to use “all necessary means” to restore order and guarantee the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Madison was never one to get caught up in the PR hype surrounding a mission. That was for the benefit of the common folk. He’d known, right from the start, sitting in the UN briefing room, that there had to be something more to it. He knew the United States, France, Pakistan, and a host of other countries weren’t shelling out a ton of money to rescue little black babies half way round the world. There had to some ulterior motive or motives behind all that ‘humanitarian’ aide.
It was not until a week later, after he’d settled into the UN camp in Somalia that he learned the real reason why ‘he’ was there.
The United States had backed the ousted President Barre and wanted him restored to power. But a powerful former diplomat turned warlord stood in their way. It was Madison’s job to fly in a group of Marines who were to find the warlord and put a bullet through his head so the United States’ could return their puppet leader to power.
“Are you Major Madison?”
His mouth went dry as he remembered the day he’d flown a group of Pakistani soldiers in the city to inspect an arms depot belonging to the warlord. Things went sideways from the start.
A group of Somali protestors, loyal to the warlord, met them and refused to allow the UN forces to enter the building. The Pakistanis presented their UN credentials but the crowd began pushing them back towards the helicopter. One of them tripped and when another drew his service revolver trying to defend his fallen comrade, the crowd turned violent. The entire Pakistani force was gunned down right before his eyes. Thankfully, he’d stayed with the helicopter.
That day, unfortunately for him, had not been his worst day in Somalia. No, that day started much like what he was seeing now.
He’d been eating lunch in the Safe Zone’s cafeteria when word came that Operation Gothic Serpent had gone badly and that two Blackhawk helicopters had been downed. Fearing retaliation by the warlord’s militiamen, the United States was abandoning its embassy in Somalia, immediately.
He was to fly a group of six Marines into the Embassy so that they could protect the Ambassador and his assistant as they cleared the Embassy of any sensitive material, i.e., any paperwork attesting to the United States true reason for being in Somalia.
It was shredding that God damn paperwork that almost got them killed.
He landed the helicopter safely amid heavy gunfire from locals loyal to the warlord. The Marines parsed themselves around the Embassy’s gates and were managing to hold off the crowd massing outside while within the Embassy the Ambassador was going through his files drawer by drawer then shredding those documents he didn’t want falling into the wrong hands.
Madison, as usual, stayed with the helicopter, his service piece at the ready should anyone attempt to steal their ride home.
Shots rung out all around him, some whizzed by him so close, that he felt the breeze they left in their wake. Others pinged off the chopper’s blades. He’d remained utterly calm until a roar went up from the crowd.
That’s when he knew their time was nearly up. Reinforcements were coming. Not for them. But for the other side. He climbed to the top of the Blackhawk helicopter and spotted the cloud of dust being raised by the warlord’s approaching trucks. “To hell with this shit,” he’d shouted. He wasn’t about to let that bastard catch him, strip him naked, chop off his balls, and stuff them down his throat. He sprang into action.
He ran towards the Embassy with a trail of bullets following him. It took him a few minutes to find the Ambassador’s office.
“We’re out of time,” he yelled bursting through the door. “Aidid’s men are almost here. And aren’t enough of us to fight them off.”
“But I’m not finished here.”
“You are now.”
Madison grabbed the Ambassador by the arm and dragging him forcibly from the office. His assistant, somewhat relieved, followed closely behind.
“When I say go, you haul ass for that chopper. Don’t stop for anything. Throw yourselves in facedown and don’t move until I tell you to.”
Madison began laying down cover fire. “Run,” he screamed and pushed the Ambassador towards the chopper. Madison watched as the Ambassador, a tall stocky man in his mid-fifties stumbled and fell head first into the black Somalia dirt. When his assistant stopped to help him, a rifle bullet cut into his chest.
“Shit! Madison cursed.
“Yes, sir Lieutenant.”
“Sergeant, call your Marines back while I pull the Ambassador’s ass out of the dirt. I suggest you blow the place, cause this ride is leaving.”
Needless to say the Ambassador was not a happy man. He’d failed to retrieve anything of value and his assistant was dead. Looking back on it now, Madison thought perhaps he might have panicked, unnecessarily.
Nora Jaffey a little flustered by the day’s events and this seemingly, up-right comatose young man, grabbed the soldier in front of her, shook him forcibly and asked once more, “Are you Major Madison.”
Madison blinked, and answered, “Yes! Yes, I’m Major Madison.”
MADISON SQUARED HIS SHOULDERS, and pulled himself together. “That was another place and another time,” he told himself as he looked around at the chaotic scene taking place in General Blake’s outer offices.
Annoyed at having made such a bad first impression, he smiled politely at the middle-aged woman who had so very unceremoniously shaken him out of his nightmarish daydream. She looked to be in her mid-fifties, with expensive dyed hair, and equally expensive clothes and shoes. The shoes were real alligator not imitation, he noted.
Clearing his throat, he introduced himself, in the most formal manner he could muster under the circumstances.
“Yes, Ma’am. I’m Major James Madison. But most everyone calls me Jim. Ma’am, he began in a more casual tone, looking around the busy room, do you mind if I ask you what’s going on? The hallway outside is buzzing about something.”
“Yes. I’m sure it is. But, please come all the way in Major Madison and have a seat. General Blake is in his office and he’s been waiting to brief you on the attack.”
“Attack? What attack?
“About an hour ago two of our commercial airplanes were used to attack the World Trade Center in New York.”
Madison’s eyes widen in disbelief. Nora Jaffey walked over to her desk, spun the small TV around that she’d been watching earlier so that Madison could see the screen.
The screen was filled with scenes of One World Trade Tower engulfed in flames. And Madison winched as he watched Marwan al-Shehhi glide a Boeing 767 into the second tower.
“Cowards!” hissed Nora before leaning over her desk and pressing the intercom button.
“General Blake, Major Madison is here.”
“Show him in Nora. I’m on a conference call with Brigadier General Fogel and the Vice Chief of Staff. They both want his input.”
As Madison entered General Blake’s office, his eyes were immediately drawn to the expansive view. Sun filtered in between the tall trees planted to obscure a direct view of Arlington National Cemetery. Madison also noted the sparseness of traffic on Highway 27 which meant the I-395 was at a standstill. But it was the plane coming in from the Southwest that made him look twice. Non military. Commercial. Flying low.
“Humph,” he said to himself before turning his full attention to Brigadier General Fogel, who was in the midst of saying how he did not believe that the terrorist were crazy enough to attempt a strike on the White House or any other structure in the capitol. But the low flying plane had given Madison an uneasy feeling. He thought he’d read in the crawl at the bottom of the TV News feed that all commercial flights had been grounded. “Maybe, that was just for New York air space,” he thought to himself.
Brigadier General Fogel’s voice was all but drowned out by Madison’s growing concern. As inconspicuously as he could, he turned his head to the right and watched as the plane continued its course towards them coming in low over the S-curve in I-395 approaching Highway 27. It was then that Madison knew what was coming. “General,” Madison shouted. “Look at the plane!”
“What plane?” General Blake asked looking up from the conference table phone to where Madison was pointing.
“It’s too damn low, Madison said. It’ll never clear the trees.”
The plane hung in the air as though it were being pulled along by a thread.
“We’ve got to get out of here!” screamed Madison.
Madison was the first to get to the door. He lunged through the door into the outer offices where General Blake’s secretary and aides were working diligently and yelled, “Everybody out! There’s a plane coming our way.” Everyone in the outer offices froze looking at Madison as though he’d lost his mind.
“You heard the man. Everybody out! Run!” Repeated General Blake.
Madison took a quick look back over his shoulder through the second floor window. The plane was not gaining altitude in an attempt to miss the building. In that, it had barely skimmed the treetops. It banked slightly to the left, and was dragging its left wing along the ground taking out the lamp posts along Highway 27 as it soared overhead. Madison knew they’d never make it out of the building before the plane hit.
“Is there a way we can get to the courtyard?”
“Yes. This way,” answered General Blake leading the way.
One by one the aides filed through the door. The last to leave was Nora, General Blake’s secretary. All the time the plane was getting bigger and bigger in the window. Madison was next.
“No, screamed Madison, to your right,” as he saw Nora Jaffey turn and run towards the Navy Operations Center. But it was too late.
He was about to close the door to the Defense Intelligence Agency, headed by General Blake, when at 9:37 a.m. American Airlines Flight 77 slammed nose first into the west wall of the Pentagon exploding into a giant orange fireball.
The percussion from the blast lifted Madison up off the floor and he was thrown some thirty feet, out into the hallway. Everything was moving in slow motion. There was a loud thud as though someone had slammed something heavy to the floor. It was followed by the shrill grinding sound of metal cutting metal. Dust and debris were raining down on him and to his absolute horror so was blood mixed with jet fuel.
Madison fought to stay calm. He began crawling on his hands and knees through the unfamiliar labyrinth of the Defense Intelligence Agency. After what seemed an eternity, he found a door knob. When he opened the door which led to the inner E-ring corridor, he saw waves of fire rolling towards him like surf on a beach. “Oh, God,” prayed Madison closing the door back. Quickly he began groping the walls of the darkened room – searching. He knew he had only seconds before the fire was on him.
He was about to give up, when his hands at last found a closet. He threw himself in head first and slammed the door shut as the fireball raced past him. He was breathing hard, more from fear than from exertion.
Much to Madison’s relief the sprinklers came on. He sat in the closet listening to the hiss of the cool water hitting hot iron and steel. When the screaming and the hissing stopped, Madison made a run for the Courtyard through Corridor Five.
Nora Jaffey’s scattered remains were recovered in the Navy Operations Center near Corridor four.
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