Three Thousand Bridges: Read an exclusive excerpt from a new 9-11 novel withTexas ties
On September 11, 2001, Texas native James Hime was on the 66th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. He survived the attacks that day and returned to his home in Texas to write about it.
What started as an exercise in coming to terms with the shock of that day has resulted in a new novel released just before Sunday's 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001. It's called Three Thousand Bridges. "The title comes from a dream that the protagonist has about what the afterlife is like, for all of us, Christian, Jew, Muslim ..." Hime says.
Three Thousand Bridges tells the journey with protagonist Cole Simms, a South Texas oil field operator, as he makes his way to New York City post-Sept. 11 in search of his son who disappeared during the attacks.
In this scene, set on the morning of September 12, 2001, Cole Simms has an oil field challenge he needs to overcome before he can set off on his journey to find out what became of his son, Jack.
Nearby some guys are rigging up the shot, a lube drum containing seventy-five pounds of eighty percent nitroglycerine grade dynamite with a detonation cord attached. The cord is wound on a spool and terminates at a plunger.
Cole cups his hands around his mouth and shouts into Frank’s ear, “Peel out of that get-up you crazy Mexican.”
Frank hollers back, “What?”
“I said strip, God damn it.”
“’Cause if anybody is walkin’ that shot in, it’s gonna be me.”
Frank’s eyebrows bunch up. “What about the bonus?”
Cole shouts, “You can have it.”
Frank looks over Cole’s shoulder at the flames shooting up from the wellhead and then looks back at Cole. “You talked me into it, you silver-tongued orator.” He starts stripping out of his protective clothing.
Now that he’s committed himself to this act of insanity, Cole knows the only way he can actually go through with it is by not thinking about it over much. He commences to shuck his jump suit. He tries not to look in the direction of the fire but the roar of it tells him all he needs to know, hammering in his ears, beating at his brain.
Inside of five minutes Cole is rigged up with the Nomex long johns, heavy socks, insulated boots and heavy cotton outerwear. He looks like a spaceman in a cheap science fiction movie, and he’s pumping sweat from his every pore.
Just before he pulls on the hood, he shouts at Larry Craig, “Y’all keep that water spray comin’, you hear? You let up for a second and I’ll be fucked like a tied goat.”
Larry hollers back, “Don’t worry, partner. You just get the shot in as close as you can and then get the hell back out.”
Cole pulls the hood on and tries to ignore the ensuing claustrophobia. He’s got a pane of glass to see through, like a deep sea diver. His breath fogs it some. The hood cuts the noise down.
His pulse pounds away in his ears.
The shot is too heavy to carry that whole way, so the men have set it in a wheelbarrow. Cole takes the handles and starts toward the inferno, stepping carefully so as not to trip over the detonation cord.
The protective gear makes walking awkward, and the wheelbarrow catches on rocks and roots and repeatedly threatens to tip over. The effort he’s put to has sweat pouring down Cole’s face and getting in his eyes, stinging.
When he’s within a couple hundred yards of the fire they turn the hoses on him.
The water cools him some at the same time it makes the ground slippery and the footing trickier still. Together with the black smoke that boils out of the fire and sweeps over him the water adds to his vision problems.
He says to himself, “I cain’t believe I’m out here pissanting seventy-five pounds of nitro around in a wheelbarrow and I ain’t even had breakfast.” His voice sounds funny inside the hood and he can barely hear it above the roar.
But for some reason it makes him feel better to say it.
So he says it again, only this time he shouts it. “I CAIN’T FUCKING BELIEVE I’M OUT HERE PISSANTING AROUND SEVENTY-FIVE POUNDS OF FUCKING NITRO IN A WHEELBARROW AND I AIN’T EVEN HAD FUCKING BREAKFAST.”
Then he has another thought.
I’ll show you huevos. Cabron.
The heat builds through the shower of water and the protective gear. The front of his body gets hotter with every step and his back feels cool by comparison. He knows the only thing that makes it tolerable, the only reason he doesn’t catch fire himself, is the steady stream of water being trained on him. It occurs to him that the frac tanks had better have plenty in reserve.
By the time he’s within fifty feet of the fire the heat has become so intense it has driven away every other sensation. He’d like nothing better than to give this enterprise up, but he knows he’s got to try to get the shot on the turntable. It has to be close enough to the fire such that when it’s detonated it will suck the oxygen out of the air long enough to kill the combustion.
He pushes the wheelbarrow right up to the turntable, his nostrils full of the smell of his own body hair incinerating.
He sets the wheelbarrow down and moves around the handles. He grabs the lube drum, heaves it up to his chest, then sets it down easy on the turntable and turns to walk away.
He makes it a few yards and his strength begins to fail him.
He feels light-headed, woozy. His legs threaten to go out from under him with every step. His feet aren’t going where he wants them to and the wind has shifted and he’s enveloped in heavy black smoke. He’s getting more disoriented and having trouble putting one foot in front of the other. The next thing he knows he’s tripped over something and he’s down on his hands and knees.
He’s completely exhausted. He knows he’s not far enough away from the fire because he can feel it baking his back but he’s almost to the point of not caring. He’s consumed by desire just to lie down right where he is.
The smoke billows and enfolds him.
He wonders if this is it, the moment when he ceases to be a human being and becomes instead inventory for some mortuary.
He wonders if anyone will bother to come to the funeral.
He feels a tug at his elbow.
He looks up.
It’s hard to see in this smoke, being showered by water, trying to look through this little pane of glass, but it looks like somebody is standing there.
Then a voice, above the roar of the fire. “Get up, Pop. Come on, get up.”
He turns his head further, the better to see.
“Come on, Pop. You don’t want to die alone. Nobody wants to die alone.”
Goddamn, he thinks. Goddamn if it ain’t Jack.
“What the hell are you doin’ here? I thought you were in New York.”
He pushes up off the ground and looks around for Jack. But he’s not there.
His brain is telling him to quit screwing around, to get out of here and go find Jack, so he starts up once more but his legs are heavy and all he wants to do is sit down. He trudges away from the blaze and toward the hoses washing him over.