Maria Brady gave her oldest daughter that advice when she was 16 years old and Elaina still recalls the moment. It was a misty September morning and frost-nipped vermillion maple leaves tumbled around them as they waited for the marigold flash of the school bus in the distance. Elaina was thinking about that new boy in her class, a transfer from a high school down South. She wanted to get his attention and was desperate for advice. Of course she was too embarrassed to tell her mother she was interested in him—instead she mustered up the courage to casually ask her mother’s opinion of what the opposite sex liked, what attracted them. Maria suspected a young man had caught her daughter’s eye. She smiled as the bus pulled up. “Men like pie,” she said and then waved goodbye. It was the last time they saw each other.
It didn’t take Elaina long to discover the truth—and irony—of her mother’s words. Later that day she was suddenly promoted to pie maker at The Terminal Diner, the Brady’s restaurant. It had been Maria’s job until the moment she abandoned Elaina, her younger sister Dee Dee and their father Walt abruptly after a trucker from Missoula gave her a lingering, hungry look when she slid a perfect slice of lemon meringue in front of him.
If Elaina had spent her teenage years like a normal girl, she’d probably understand more about men, such as how one lusty glance can make you dump everything you hold dear and hitch a ride with a stranger on the first interstate going west. Normal never arrived, and its lack of an appearance meant Elaina never could figure out men or her mother’s decision. All she knew for certain was the pie thing. Apple, blueberry, lemon meringue, pecan—my God, a man couldn’t end a meal without a slice. Every day there had to be pie.
Her days back then were full platters of house chores, herding Dee Dee to eat-shower-dress, baking pies at the diner before she went to school and helping Walt close up by eight. Dee Dee spent evenings doing homework at the diner’s counter while Elaina stirred blueberries into thick batter for the next morning’s muffins (a favorite overnight recipe from a church cookbook). By the time they got home, Elaina yawned through her homework while Dee Dee sawed away at the cello. Maria had insisted on paying for pricey cello lessons because she said Dee Dee’s music talent shouldn’t be wasted. She was “going places.” Maria never said anything like that about Elaina. Instead, she taught her how to make pies, just as her mother Helena had done for her.
The secret to a great pie was the crust, Maria said. “The dough has to be cold and you shouldn’t handle it too much.” Maria shared a tip from her mother: “Your Yia Yia Helena always chilled the shortening in the freezer and used ice water to mix the dough.” She took Elaina’s hand and helped her flute the edge of the dough by pressing it between the middle finger and forefinger of her thumb. “When it looks beautiful, it tastes delightful,” Maria said.
Had Elaina focused on her schoolwork, she might have gone to the community college in Binghamton as her best friend Lisa did. Instead, her low grades and reticence to leave the familiar comfort of her small life saved Walt money—enough to pay for Dee Dee’s tuition at that private music college in Boston. Elaina wasn’t bitter. To be honest, at that time in her life neither man nor potential careers held sway over her heart. Perhaps if her mother stayed around longer and Elaina had gone to college, she would have acquired the self-confidence to make any decision on her own and not just about the future. It could have been as simple as deciding to wear Goth eyeliner or dye her hair fuchsia the way Lisa did. Both things she had pondered for a couple of years. Yet today her eyes remained pale and undefined; no rebellion streaked across her hair.
Walt provided no compass for Elaina in these matters. After Maria fled, he anchored himself at the diner they’d bought from her father, Metro. Walt’s sanity was held together by the diner’s routine, a bond as tenuous as one made with old, amber-hued cellophane tape. He was just 45, yet felt like an old man. Walt had few friends who weren’t customers and as for women, why would he allow his heart to be abandoned again? He was glad that his work provided Elaina with shelter and a steady job—more than his own parents had given him. Walt buried his own dreams of becoming an architect years ago under greasy towers of corned beef hash scraped across The Terminal Diner’s griddle. Elaina would have to uncover other dreams on her own. At her current pace of decision-making though, she’d be with him at the diner ’til he dropped dead over some sunny-side-ups.
By the time she was 26, Elaina could do one thing well: bake damn-fine pie. The diner was down the bend from the Binghamton Regional Airport terminal, and Elaina liked to think that her pies were the first or last taste of Binghamton visitors had. Their whole impression of the city might hinge on the flakiness of a crust, the juiciness of seasonal fruit. This wasn’t just a job—this was civic pride.
Elaina’s pies were so renowned that some customers dropped in regularly when they knew their favorites were on the menu. The plastic pipe salesman stopped in on Wednesdays for the Boston cream. The Lions Club president moved their monthly lunch meetings to Thursdays because of the peanut butter fluff. That cute young state trooper swung by Saturday mornings. Said he couldn’t start his day right without a slice of apple crumb warm from the oven.
She’d been in this routine at the diner for a decade now. The week-long ritual of paring fruit, kneading dough and washing pans in hot, lemony-soaped water dimmed what little beauty remained of Elaina’s appearance. Her knuckles were swollen like galls on willow branches, rimmed red like ripe peaches. Years of confinement within the stainless steel diner walls blocked sunlight from warming her face and denied natural shimmer from her hair, which picked up a greenish-yellow cast under the kitchen’s fluorescent lights. Her looks didn’t matter much. In fact, they rarely crossed Elaina’s mind.
That particular Monday morning she arrived at the diner by 5:30 a.m. and had already rolled out several crusts by the time Walt arrived to cook breakfast. He walked over to an Irish pound note framed above the cash register, kissed his fingers and touched it for good luck. His late brother Patrick brought it back years ago after visiting some cousins in County Cavan. Walt dreamed of going to Ireland one day, but not until there was someone who could run the diner completely in his absence. In other words, that pound note was probably as close as he’d ever get to the Emerald Isle.
“Hey, Pop. Did you notice the parking lot sign is gone again?”
“Probably college kids again. They sure get a kick out of hanging up ‘Terminal Diner Parking’ on their dorm walls. I oughta make some copies to sell at the campus book store.”
“Did ya ever think of changing the name?”
“Well, it was called The Terminal Diner when we took it over from your grandfather Metro 20 years ago. Maria and I figured it might affect business if we changed it. Like they say, if it ain’t broke….”
“I guess, Pop. Hmmm. Feels like it’s gonna rain today,” Elaina said as she floured a ball of dough and shoved the heel of her hand into it. She glanced up at the clock and noticed that no one had changed the calendar under it yet. And here it was the tenth of the new month already. It must have been because they were so busy last week with the Labor Day Weekend crowd and back to school bustle. She wiped the flour off her hands and hooked the new month’s page onto the nail: September 2001.
“Mary Jo called in sick today. I’m gonna need your help in the dining room waiting tables with Angie.”
“No problem, Pop. I’m ahead on the pies. Muffins are done, too.” Elaina slid a couple of blueberry pies into the oven and went to set the tables for breakfast. She looked out the front window and noticed a new sign hanging over the former used car dealership across the road.
“Hey, someone’s bought Paul Wallace’s shop,” she called out to her father. “Now it’s American Car Sales & Repair.”
“I heard a couple of Middle Eastern fellas bought it. Glad to see that open again. We used to get a lot of customers from Paul.”
The aroma of brewed coffee and sizzling bacon filled the diner by the time Angie arrived to work at 6:30 a.m. She smiled warmly at the first customers of the day waiting for her, a retired engineer and his new wife who knew Walt from church. He peeked out the order window and waved at them sitting in the booth as she handed the couple menus.
Angie was his best hire ever. She was a hard worker, always dependable and pleasant to work with. That pertly bobbed ash blonde hair and brilliant smile of hers didn’t fool him. Walt knew she’d had a rough life. Her husband Mario was a rock musician who became addicted to heroin and overdosed a several years ago after a gig at a downtown bar. They never had kids, which in a way was good for Angie because she was still struggling to pay off the huge credit card debts he incurred.
“Regular or decaf, hon?” Angie poured the coffee and sprinkled a handful of creamers in front of them. By half past eleven, the tables and booths were buzzing with customers and Elaina had already joined Angie out front rushing around to serve them.
“Man, why is everyone so hungry today?” Elaina mouthed to Angie as she passed her with a tray full of pie slices.
“You’d think it was their last meal on earth, El.”
A young man came in holding an umbrella, pulled at his suit jacket (obviously new), and sat down at the counter. He ordered a turkey club sandwich and cola.
“All dressed up,” Elaina smiled as she handed him a straw for his drink. “What’s the occasion? You look like you’re either heading to or coming from a job interview.”
“Actually both,” the young man said as he wiped his brow. “Phew. It’s so humid out.”
“So, how’d the first one go?” Elaina asked.
The man shrugged and wiggled his hand.
“Now I’m catching a flight to New York this afternoon. I have an interview with a Wall Street firm at four thirty today. If that goes well, I’m meeting with one of the VPs tomorrow morning at their new office in the World Trade Center.”
“Ever been to New York before?”
“Of course. Many times. How about you?”
Elaina grinned shyly. “Naw. Someday….”
“Well, if I get this job, any time you want to come down and see the city I’ll give you a tour.”
She blushed and smiled as she leaned forward impulsively and tucked a napkin in his collar. “Don’t want ya to spill anything on your interview suit.” Elaina bustled around the dining room but kept an eye on the young man. As soon as he looked like he was finished, she went back over.
“Get ya anything else?”
“I’m fine, thanks.”
“Not even a piece of pie I baked this morning? You know, for good luck.”
“Pie? Um…sure. What do you have?”
“Well forget the blueberry ’cause you don’t want stained teeth ruining your interview. The apple came out real good today.”
He laughed. “You convinced me. Give me a slice of lucky apple pie.”
Elaina skipped back to the kitchen and cut a larger than usual slice for the young man. As she handed it to him there was a flash of lightning outside followed immediately by a thunder crack.
“That sounded close,” the young man said as he spun around to look outside. “Hope my plane takes off on time.”
A man wearing a neon pink Hawaiian shirt, khaki pants and moccasins dashed toward the diner from his car as rain started to fall with fury. He waved a poster at Elaina.
“Excuse me, miss. I was wondering if I could put up this flyer on the bulletin board by the entrance. It’s for an exhibit at my gallery.”
Elaina read the flyer and stared at the oil portrait of a man leaning against the mast of a sailboat.
“Did you paint that?”
“Yes, I’m Rhey White. I bought the old drive-in theater down the road recently and converted it into a gallery.”
“Oh, yeah, I saw some workers down there and wondered what was going on. Look at this,” she said as she turned the poster around to show the young man finishing his piece of pie. “Doesn’t it look just like a picture?”
The young man nodded. “Wow. That’s really good. Wish I had talent like that.”
Rhey made a slight bow with his head. “Why thank you, very much. You should both come by the gallery. The show opens Friday.” He looked outside at the still insistent rain and grimaced. “Gotta run. Buh-bye.”
When Rhey approached the door, a man in a Navy uniform held it open for him. Rhey thanked him as he ran to the car.
“Did he lose the way to Margaritaville or something?” the sailor asked as he sat at the counter.
Elaina frowned as she handed him the menu. “He happens to be a real good artist.”
“Definitely has talent,” the young man said as he stood up to pay his bill.
“Yeah? Well he hasn’t got any talent for fashion. The glare off that shirt just about burned my retinas,” the sailor said, laughing loudly while looking around the diner to see if anyone would join in. “Now this kid knows how to dress. Nice suit. Great tie. Whaddya heading to, an interview?”
“Yep, just leaving for New York.”
“Ahhhh, the city. Boy, do I have fond memories of The Big Apple.” The sailor leaned toward the young man. “You ought to wear one of these outfits during Fleet Week,” he said pointing at his uniform. “You’d be beating away the chicks. I’m talking real lookers. Not like what you see around here.” He nodded toward Elaina.
“Good looks are easy to find,” the young man said. “Being able to find a woman who can bake delicious pie as”—he leaned in to read her name tag—Elaina can, is far more appealing, I’d say.”
Wow, she couldn’t believe a stranger defended her honor like that. She wanted to ask what his name was, but didn’t have the nerve.
“Yeah, right. Whatever you say, bud,” the sailor snorted as he opened a menu.
“Good luck,” Elaina waved as the young man walked out the door and opened his umbrella.
“So you think your pie is pretty good?” the sailor said, tapping her arm with the menu. “I’ll be the judge of that. Give me a piece of apple.”
“Sorry, we’re fresh out.” She lied. This jerk didn’t deserve a slice of her best pie.
“Got any other fruit pie?”
“Nope. Blueberry’s gone, too. I’ve got pumpkin, coconut cream or pecan left.”
“No fruit pie? Forget it. I don’t need dessert. Gotta keep my girlish figure.”
Ugh, Elaina thought as she noted his name tag said “Johnson.” Customers like this guy were why she preferred to work in the kitchen. As she headed back to that comfort zone, she passed Walt carrying in a box of coffee filters to stack under the counter. He noticed the sailor sitting there.
“How long you been in the service, son?” Walt asked with a smile.
“A few years now. My leave is up. Flying back to Virginia.”
“You be sure to take care then.”
That evening as Elaina wiped down the tables, she saw lights were still on in the garage across the street. Boy, those new owners must be hard workers, she thought.
Tuesday morning the first hints of dawn warmed the horizon as Elaina neared the top of Airport Road. At the intersection with Commercial Drive, she passed the boomerang-shaped neon sign for Rhey’s Drive-In Gallery on the right. It looked like something from that cartoon The Jetsons, which made her laugh. When she got out of her car in the diner’s parking lot, she noticed the owners of the new dealership across the street were talking animatedly on cell phones, pacing in front of the garage. Lights glowed from inside. Had they even been shut off from the night before? She could hear the owners’ voices but they spoke in a language she couldn’t understand.
Elaina put the key in the front lock and heard the birds singing spiritedly around her. The air was as crisp as a bite into a fresh-picked apple and the sky was a rare hue of deep turquoise. It sounded as if the birds were taunting her to play hooky on this glorious morning. She breathed in deeply, paused as she thought about heeding them for a second, and opened the door.
Yesterday afternoon on her break she had driven up Brooks Road to buy late raspberries and blueberries as well as the first of the Cortland apples at the orchard stand. Elaina couldn’t wait to use this beautiful assortment of fresh fruits. Today’s pies would be especially delicious. She rolled out the pie crusts and wondered if Mary Jo would show up for work. There was a TV movie Elaina wanted to see tonight, and if she didn’t have to do Mary Jo’s shift in addition to her own, she’d get home in time.
As she wove the lattice strips across the blueberry and raspberry pies, Walt walked by and noticed that along with the apple pies they formed a red, white and blue theme.
“I like the patriotic look you have going there, daughter.” Elaina stood back and laughed.
“You’re right. Hadn’t noticed.”
The daily 6 a.m. Xpress Cargo flight into Broome County flew in lower than usual over the diner. With planes coming and going all day long, Elaina was so used to the roar that she rarely paid them notice. This plane made a different noise, as if there might be engine trouble.
“That didn’t sound good,” Walt said as he poured water into the coffee pot. Elaina peeked out the dining room window to see if there was any black smoke coming from the direction of the airport. No booms. No smoke. The sky looked even bluer, if that was possible.
“Aww, can’t we take the day off, Pop? It’s too nice out to be stuck inside working.”
“I wish. But I do have some good news. Mary Jo called to say she’d be coming in to work, but might be a little late.”
“Thank God for that,” Elaina said as she flipped around the sign on the front door, “Open 6:30 to 8.” Despite her best intentions, Mary Jo hadn’t arrived before the first customer of the day.
“Elaina, can you take care of him?” Walt called to her.
A tall man with a braided black ponytail sat in the last booth by the front window and placed the rucksack he was carrying next to him. He wore a beaded belt over his untucked jean shirt and a silver turtle on a chain around his neck. His looks made Elaina think he was an American Indian, and she wondered if he was from the Onondaga Nation up near Syracuse.
When she walked over with a menu and held up the coffee pot, he shook his head.
“Do you want tea?”
“No. Have my own.”
After she returned and filled up his mug, he took a sachet from his rucksack and dunked it in the water.
“I’ll have the special.”
Mary Jo arrived muttering a string of apologies. There was something about Merle coming home late from third shift and she had trouble waking up the kids for the school bus. Elaina smiled at her as she thought, boy, what a drama magnet.
While arranging fresh muffins in the display case, Elaina saw a reflection in the mirror behind the counter of the men still talking on cell phones across the street. They went inside the sales office, argued for a few minutes, then turned off the lights, came outside, got in their cars and drove away. That’s weird, she thought. Closing the shop already? Wonder what’s going on over there?
The man in the booth came over to pay his bill. She handed him his change and he replied “Nya weñha,” grabbed some free cinnamon toothpicks by the cash register and walked out the door. Elaina wondered what he said.
Mary Jo was busy taking orders, so Elaina cleaned up the man’s booth. She picked up the tea bag off his plate and sniffed it. Smelled like pot, she thought. (Once she’d caught Dee Dee and her high school boyfriend smoking it behind the diner. After she told Walt, Dee Dee never tried that again.)
There was no tip left on the table. Elaina frowned. Then a glimmer from the seat of the booth caught her eye. It was a sculpture made with crumpled aluminum foil of a man riding an airplane. The figure was about the size of a coffee cup.
“Hmm, now that’s different. Could’ve used the tip money, though.” She sighed as she tucked the sculpture carefully into her apron pocket and carried his dishes into the kitchen.
About an hour later, a car screeched into the parking lot and the artist from the Drive-In Gallery ran inside, breathless.
“Do you have a TV in here?” Rhey yelled. Elaina pointed at the one bolted to the ceiling above the cash register.
“Put it on. Ohmigod! I can’t believe they’ve done this!”
“What’s going on?” Walt asked as he ran from the kitchen with his spatula. Elaina grabbed the remote control and turned the TV on. “Who’s done what?”
“It’s gotta be terrorists! Planes! Hit the World Trade Center!” Rhey said. “I just heard about it on NPR. My TV isn’t working, so I….”
Diners left their seats and gathered near the counter as they watched in horror as flames and smoke spewed from the Twin Towers. The news anchor interrupted a reporter on the scene in Manhattan to say that reports just came in of a third plane hitting the Pentagon. Everyone gasped.
“It’s another Pearl Harbor,” Walt said.
“Here we go, World War Three,” one elderly man said with disgust as he shook his head and sat back in his booth to finish his coffee.
Everyone else in the diner froze in place. The images were too unbelievable for their minds to comprehend. As they stood there with mouths gaping, it got worse. Cameras showed people in the World Trade Center standing on window sills, trying to escape the flames, and then falling to their deaths.
“Ohmigod, my ex…my Robbie’s there! He works in the South Tower,” Rhey said as he clapped his hand over his mouth when he saw a man plummeting from the tower. “I can’t look. Oh, Lord. What if that was him?” He turned away and collapsed into a booth. Elaina sat down across from him.
“Hey, calm down. You don’t know what’s happened yet. Your ex…um…your friend might be perfectly fine.” She took his hand.
“How can he be? Look at that. How could he get out alive?” Rhey called Robbie on his cell phone. All he got was a beeping signal or a message saying that all circuits were busy.
Another bulletin came over the TV. A separate jet just crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. “Ohmigod, make it stop!” Rhey wailed.
“How close is Shanksville to us?” a customer asked. Then, as if on cue, everyone remembered how close the diner was to the airport and looked toward the windows. Walt sensed their panic rising.
“Listen folks,” he said. “Don’t worry about paying for your meals. Get home to your loved ones. We’ll keep pouring the coffee for free as long as anyone wants to stay.”
While most did leave, Elaina brought chairs from the back room out so those who remained could sit and watch the special report.
“I better get home, Walt. They’ll probably send the kids home early from school,” Mary Jo said as she bit her fingernails. He waved her on with the spatula; she grabbed her purse and ran to her car.
A cry went up across the room. “Oh…oh noooo!”
Everyone gasped as the South Tower bloomed into a terrifying cloud of collapsing debris. Rhey covered his eyes with his arms and sobbed. Elaina edged into his booth and draped her arm around him, patting his shoulder. She trembled as tears streamed down her face. Then she closed her eyes and wondered how a morning that started off so peaceful and beautiful could evolve into terror so dark and evil. For some reason, her thoughts drifted to those red, white and blue pies she’d baked this morning.
“Oh. I just thought of something,” she said as she backed away from Rhey. “That guy who came in here yesterday. Remember him? You met each other when you brought in the gallery poster. He said he wished he had your talent. He was supposed to have an interview in New York this morning.”
“I remember—the cute guy in the brand new gabardine suit. Do you know where his interview was?”
“Wall Street. Wait, his second interview was supposed to be in the World Trade…oh no….” Elaina looked at the counter where the young man sat just yesterday and gasped. Through a cruel coincidence she might be connected to this horrific day. She reached into her apron pocket for a tissue and her hand touched the aluminum foil airplane. It freaked her out. Elaina went into the kitchen to get a box of tissues for everyone and threw the sculpture on the spice shelf above her workspace.
“Here,” she said, passing out tissues to the remaining customers.
“They just said the FAA has grounded all planes across the country,” Rhey said as he grabbed a fistful of tissues and continued calling Robbie on his cell phone. They looked back at the TV just as the North Tower collapsed. He put his hands over his head as if ducking from debris.
“Oh, Lord! This is insane!” Rhey rose from the booth and walked away from the TV toward the back room, pacing around tables as he hit redial on his cell phone, over and over.
The remaining patrons spoke in church-hushed tones about horrors they’d witnessed in their lives. Some mentioned World War II; others recalled bloody battles in Vietnam. One customer told about a gruesome multi-car pileup he witnessed on Route 81 during a snowstorm. This moment, however, was something else. It was way beyond anything they’d ever seen or imagined. Terrorists were attacking multiple American icons in one day. How was it possible?
“It’s ringing,” Rhey screamed from the other room. Elaina ran to his side just as he heard Robbie’s voice. He smiled briefly then his face became solemn. It was Robbie’s answering machine. Rhey trembled as he wondered, would that be the last time he heard Robbie’s voice?
The diner’s phone rang and Walt answered. It was Dee Dee, hysterical.
“They took off from here, Pop. I’m so scared. What if there are others meant for us? I want to come home but someone said all the highways into New York have been shut down. I don’t know what to do. I couldn’t get out of here if I wanted.” She sobbed loudly into the phone.
“Calm down, Dee Dee. I think the best thing for you to do is stay put in Boston. This is a national emergency, so nobody’s going anywhere. Do you have some friends you can be with tonight?”
“Some of the other music majors live in my apartment building. I’ll see if Joachim is in.”
“Good. Hold on Dee Dee, your sister wants to talk with you.” Walt handed the phone to Elaina, and then turned and wiped the tears streaming across his face. After Dee Dee heard her sister say hello, she just cried as they attempted to speak to each other. It was too much.
“I love ya, Sis,” was about all Elaina could muster.
Walt and Elaina closed the diner just before three o’ clock.
“I’ll follow you home,” Walt said to her.
Outside, a sheriff’s cruiser with lights flashing sped up around the bend toward the airport. After a few minutes it headed back down Airport Road and stopped just as Walt was getting into his car.
“Hey, Walt,” Sgt. Ben Wilcox called out. “FYI, we’ve closed off the road up ahead by the airport. You can’t head up that way.”
“Thanks. We were just going home anyway.”
There wasn’t much traffic. It was as if they were in a “Twilight Zone” episode, Elaina thought, one in which the entire population of a town vanishes on a beautiful, sunny day. Once home, the eeriness continued. Terror was the only “show” on TV. They stared at the set as Walt cooked hot dogs and beans. He opened a bottle of Jameson Irish whiskey and poured them both a tall glass.
“Are we gonna open up tomorrow, Pop?” Elaina winced as she sipped the strong liquor that burned her tongue.
“I’ve been debating that, Elaina. We might not do enough business to be worth it, especially with the airport closed. Then again, people might need a place to gather to talk about it all, like they did today. They’ll need something comforting—something like a piece of your wonderful pie.”
Elaina hugged a throw pillow as she thought back to that morning, before the chaos, and the simple moment when they were admiring her beautiful pies lined up on the counter. “Well…since the pies are already baked, guess I won’t need to get to work early. I’ll just ride in with you tomorrow, if you don’t mind.” Walt came over and put his arm around Elaina. For the second time today he started to cry. It was more than she’d seen him cry in his entire life. He’d never shed a tear in front of them after Maria left.
“It’s OK, Pop. We’ll get through this.” She patted his back awkwardly.
“I just don’t understand this crazy, upside-down world today. It’s like you can’t trust people anymore. Why do people have to hurt each other?”
Right then Elaina knew that his tears were not just flowing for the lives lost in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. She knew Walt was mourning the former life he’d lost when Maria headed west.
That night when she finally calmed down and fell asleep, Elaina dreamed that she was trapped in one of the Twin Towers. A hand came through the smoke and grabbed hers, pulling her out into the daylight. She could hear the birds singing like they did that morning, and a cool breeze brushed her brow as she stared into the deep blue of sky above. The man released her hand and went back inside the burning tower. She never saw his face, heard his voice or had the chance to thank him.