Being a novel, all characters, events, dialogue and representations are fictional ... and in no way are meant to represent any real or living persons or events... except the few annual events that are used to move me through time. The opinions expressed are my own, and not necessarily those of my author. And the story is copyrighted, by my author of course. Oh, and from time to time I may include some real time events to keep the blog more authentic. Comments and suggestions will be appreciated and seriously considered as the story moves along.

If you are just joining us, start with the Prologue and Chapter One on March 1, 2011, in the Archives.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Chapter 65

Heres the next installment of our night out at the gala at the Wind Museum. What a night!
Dinner was delicious. The museum had obviously spared no expense in choosing the menu of prime rib and smoked salmon, with delicate asparagus spears lightly covered in a French white wine sauce Doug vowed he would get the recipe for, even if it wasn’t Italian. 
   Jamie seemed to have gotten over his “mad,” and half-smiled at Sharon and me as he continued to help serve the dinner plates and poured more wine and coffee.
   “I’m sure he’s still angry with Bennett for throwing the Tramps out of the tower,” Colin had said when I told him of the incident. “He seems so depressed this year. I worry about him, but I’m sure he’ll be fine tonight. I’ll talk to him later.”
I relaxed because all the media had left as dinner was served, having gotten their alloted footage, quotes and photos. Their tendency was to not hang around if they could help it. And I did notice Winston had given them doggy bags.
   Winston stopped by our table, and Sharon and I introduced him to our dates. When he moved on, Doug said, “Well, I’ll be damned. You’re right. He does look a little like the White Rabbit.”
“Shh!” Sharon said quickly, looking to make certain Winston hadn’t heard. He hadn’t, but she playfully slapped at Doug’s arm anyway. 
   “I kinda agree, I think,” Colin said. “That is if I remember what the White Rabbit looks like. From Alice in Wonderland, right?”
Doug said, “Yep. Looks like Whitaker, except with long white ears. He even has a pocket watch and chain! Why does he dress like that?”
“He does it to create an older persona,” I explained. “We talked about it, and he explained he does it for the opportunity to be more friendly with wealthy women.”
“What?” Doug said. “That doesn’t make sense.”
“Sure it does, Honey,” Sharon replied. “If their husbands think they’re giving money to some old guy who likes windmills, they’re fine with that. They’ve met him and find nothing to be jealous about. Would you be jealous if I spent a lot of time with him?”
“No. He’s just a funny old guy. Sort of comical.”
  Sharon smiled. “That’s precisely why he does it. The men don’t see him as a threat, and the women adore him. He’s so charming!”
   “Exactly,” I said. “Witty, charming and a gracious host.”
   Miss Katherine was making the rounds at the same time, resplendent in a navy satin gown that stylishly showed off her delicate bare shoulders. “Who’s a gracious host?” she said. 
   “Why, you!” I replied, rising to give her a hug. “You’ve done a great job, Katherine. Everything is perfect!”
     “Why, thank you, Maggie. I tell you, I’m having the time of my life! I’m so glad to be working here with Dr. Whitaker. He’s such a charming old gentleman!”
   As the sated patrons were finishing up the crème brûlée with fresh raspberries, Winston took his place on the first landing of the new steel and glass staircase. It provided central access to a five-foot-wide glass walkway spanning the museum’s main floor from east to west. Although it was about 15 feet up in the air, the bridge served to visually separate the open area from the exhibits. Made entirely of metal and clear glass–even the floor section–Colin said it reminded him of the fairly new Calatrava glass bridge in Venice.    
   “You’ve been to Venice?” I asked innocently. Colin just smiled. 
   Affording an entirely different perspective on the exhibits, especially those in the pit that had been moved toward the back, and being only a few feet wide, the walkway allowed the majority of the first floor to remain open to the new ceiling, also made of glass. During the day, the natural light was a perfect setting for the windmills. Tonight, a few bright West Texas stars could just barely be seen twinkling between the floating decorations.
   From the first landing, about eight feet up, Winston had an unobstructed view of the entire museum floor and stood there for a moment admiring the scene, enjoying the packed house and the splendor of the evening. Only one chair was empty ... Bennett Boyle’s. Stupid fool, Winston thought. His loss.
   He switched on the microphone placed there for the evening and cleared his throat before saying loudly, “Good evening, my dear friends!” Silence followed, as all heads turned toward him, anticipating. This was what he had worked for all his life, he thought happily, this recognition, this splendor, this spotlight. And he was prepared.
   “My dear friends,” he began. “It is with extreme joy that I welcome you to this gala ‘festavelebration’ upon the completion of the first of five phases for the expansion of my Wind Museum, destined to become the premier institution for all things ‘Windy.’ ” The audience laughed at his obvious self-serving play on words, but they loved him and expected nothing less. 
   He continued, “My heart tonight is ‘overglowing’ with gratitude to so many people. Let me introduce a few special ones tonight. First, our new president, Dr. Raymond Parker and his lovely wife, Ruth.” Dr. and Mrs. Parker stood to the applause and bowed graciously to Winston, who then, in turn, introduced the board chair, other board members and, of course, Russ and Fern Arbuckle, the philanthropists who had made the evening possible. 
   After all introductions, Winston continued, “I know you have been enjoying the new space and the new exhibit, but I want to give you a brief outline of what else we have deliciously planned, and not just for the next meal, but for the Wind Museum expansion. Our next phase ...”
A scream pierced the air, and Winston and guests turned toward the sound. Mrs. Fauntly was standing, screaming loudly and looking wide-eyed at the northeast wall. A figure in familiar catering clothes had emerged from the office hallway, back and hair fully engulfed in flames! In obvious agony, he stumbled, moaned and fell against the wall, becoming entangled in the mirrored ribbons and two of the white fabric columns that hung from the ceiling. Glass mirrors crashed to the floor and the fabric caught fire. The large-framed Mrs. Fauntly fainted and fell heavily to the ground a few feet away from the burning man.
   More screams and then an immediate pushing back of chairs as most guests began moving away from the danger and the now-billowing smoke rushing in from the hallway. Colin had jumped up before I could even comprehend what I was seeing. He reached the fallen man just as a campus police officer rushed in, extinguisher in hand. The officer quickly doused the flames on the man and started checking his vital signs. 
   Colin reached to pull the burning cloths down, but the flames had been too quick and were already halfway up the wall, spreading to other fabric as smoke started to curl on the glass ceiling. He knew the extinguisher wouldn’t reach that high.      
     “Where’s the sprinkler system?” he shouted to the guard. 
   “I pulled the alarm, but nothing happened,” the officer shouted back. He called on his radio for an ambulance. He had already called the fire department from outside. Several guests stepped forward at the officers direction and were picking up the burned man just as others helped a revived Mrs. Fauntly towards the front doors. The officer pulled Colin away from the wall saying, “It’s too late! We’ve got to get all those other doors open!”
   Colin looked up once more at the spreading flames, then glanced at the hallway where the waiter had come from. He could see a wall of orange through the thickening smoke, and thought the entire back office area must be burning. He turned, looking for Maggie, but still headed toward the doors.
   Jamie appeared suddenly at his side, saying the kitchen was cleared out the back and asking what he could do? 
“Open the last two doors. We’ve got these!” Colin said, turning back to look again for Maggie. Their table was empty. 
   When I realized Colin was heading for the burning man, I got up to help him but a quick glance at Sharon stopped me. Phelps sat as if in a trance, staring at the flames beginning to shoot up the wall. Sharon’s left arm was clamped protectively over her right shoulder, exactly where she had been burned three months earlier. 
   I reached for her, but Doug, having immediately sensed his lover’s terror, was already pulling her to her feet, saying, “I’ve got her, Maggie. I’ve got her. Come on, Baby. Let’s get your coat on and go home. Party’s over. Come on, Baby.” He gently but firmly made her stand, put her coat on and then looked at Maggie. “Let’s go!”  
I nodded, and looked again for Colin who was heading for the French doors. Was that my closest exit? Sweeping the room, something caught my eye and I looked up at the glass stairway landing behind me. Winston stood stock still, eyes wide and hands gripping the railing tightly, staring at the fire. 
  “Maggie! Come on!” Doug shouted, already two tables away, holding Sharon protectively against the crush of the panicked crowd. They were quickly absorbed by the throng, but I again looked instead for Colin. All the doors were open now, and cold air rushed in as the hundreds of guests rushed out into the night. Our table was in the southeast corner of the open space, the fire to my left, the doors behind me. I was alone in my area – all others had instinctively fled away from the fire. I scrambled over upturned chairs, discarded coats and dropped glassware, heading for Winston, screaming his name as I ran.
   As I reached the bottom of the glass stairs, he seemed to hear me and looked down at me. Recovering, he said, “Yes, yes. I’m coming. I’m coming!” Not using the railing, he sprinted down to me, grabbing my arm and turning me around to lead me out as I reached the fifth step. I had to shake the notion that he was old and feeble, as he always seemed, remembering he was actually much younger and still in fairly good condition despite his girth. He was helping me out instead of the other way around.
   As we hit the bottom of the stairs, they heard a loud pop overhead, and then a gushing sound, and a few moments later, when we were about ten feet from the doors, we were showered with water. The sprinkler system had kicked in at last and was doing a good job of putting out the fire in the exhibit hall. 
    “Thank God,” Winston said as we exited the doors leading to the patio. 
Colin grabbed me from behind, turned me around and crushed me against him tightly. “Thank God,” he said over and over, oblivious to my wet hair and soggy satin gown. 
   “I’m fine, Colin. Really. Did everyone get out?”
He took off his coat and wrapped it around me as I began to shiver, and then held me protectively again. “Yes, I think so, but we haven’t been able to get to the office area. It’s still burning. Fire department’s just arrived. They’ll check, but I can’t imagine anyone surviving in there.” 
  “Sharon and Doug?” I asked. 
  “Saw them. They’re fine. I sent them home. Sharon didn’t need to watch this again,” he said quietly. 
   “Fern and Russ?”
   “Out and safe. Fern is organizing those who need medical attention and Russ is moving people to their cars.”
   Winston had slumped heavily on the porch’s stone wall as soon as they exited, and I thought he was once more transformed into an old man. A good samaritan placed an overcoat around his wet shoulders. 
   “Why did this happen?” Winston said to no one in particular, shaking his head and trying unsuccessfully to pull the warm coat around him. “Why here? Why now? Oh, my windmills.”
   Many of the guests had left, but just as many stood in the parking lot or sat in their cars watching the old east part of the building burn, flames now coming through the one-story roof despite the best efforts of the Lubbock firemen. Winston stood up and shuffled over to us. “Is anyone else hurt badly? That poor man ...” 
   Colin said, “Some bruises and a few cuts. Someone broke out a window with a chair, I think, before we opened all the doors ... and a sprained ankle or two from pushing their way out. Good thing there were so many doors. I think everyone else is fairly okay, except the waiter. Must have been in the men’s room back there. They’re taking him across to the Medical Center. He’s still alive thanks to the officer, but he’s got some pretty serious burns. Patrol cop said he’d seen the flames through the outside office window, so he came in with the extinguisher from his patrol car.”
   “And the lady who fainted?” I asked.
   “Oh, she’s fine. Refused to go to the Medical Center — tough old bird. Said she wanted to stay and watch the excitement. By the way, Dr. Whitaker, she also said she would personally donate enough to rebuild what was lost tonight. Said it several times, in fact.”
   “Really? Mrs. Fauntly?” Winston asked, somewhat recovering. “Guess I need to go make sure she’s all right... um... you know what I mean?” 
I smiled and then pulled away from Colin, putting my arms through the sleeves of his coat, buttoning it and rolling up the sleeves. It would have to do, I thought, picking pins from my soggy hair. Smoothing it back straight and pinning it tightly in my old-style chignon, I said to Colin, “Time for me to go to work. The reporters will be coming back soon. I’ll find you later. Can you figure out a way to get home since Doug took the car? I might be a while.” I borrowed a phone and started dialing my staff as I walked away.
   “I’m going with you, and yes, I’ll find a ride,” he said as he followed me toward the fire trucks and chaos. No way he was letting her out of his sight again tonight.

More next week, my friends!

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