The biting cold winter gave pause, as if to accommodate the New Year’s Eve celebration. The valley between the canyon walls of Times Square glowed orange, red and gold like the lava filled chambers of an awakening volcano.
Henry had scrapped his plans to host an over-sized volunteer appreciation party for the thousands of volunteers that had helped fulfill Jaio’s mission over the past year. Instead, a large contingency of his followers requested to take the money associated with the party and buy wool blankets, jackets and warm meals for the homeless that they could distribute throughout the evening.
Henry had reserved a suite at the Marriott Marquis and invited his team to watch the festivities from his balcony. Gina planned to come by train. Missy Davidson would be there. Cael and Ruben had arranged for private transport of Jaio from his hidden apartment into a service entrance and up a staff elevator to the suite. The hotel had agreed to support their request for such privacy as they often had in the past for other dignitaries, politicians, athletes and A-list entertainment stars.
Having worked for Henry for several months as a communication and executive image strategist to Jaio, Greyson Holliday looked forward to the gathering with an excitement he had not felt since his childhood.
He had spent the holiday week in Iowa with his brother and sister. And then they all flew to New York for a Horniday getaway a few days prior to New Year’s Eve. Melanie’s husband and kids stayed behind in Iowa freeing her to spend quality time with her two brothers. Both Michael and Melanie stayed in Greyson’s apartment. He had insisted they check out of their hotels and bond as a family. Mel took the spare bedroom. Greyson gave up his bed to Michael and slept on his couch as he had so many times before in his days as a drunk.
“It’s been too long that we have had apartment and hotel walls between us,” he wrote in a Trinity post to his siblings, which came out more poetically than he had expected. “Let’s stay together as a family again. Remember when we all lived under the same roof? We may never be together in quite this way again. Mel has her family. Mikey has his business. But we have Jaio in common now. And we have Jaio to thank for uniting us. Let’s honor our new common cause with a little family reunion at my place.”
Melanie cried when she received the message and instantly VidBit Michael, who hadn’t cried, but shared her emotion at the gesture.
One night, they went out for Brazilian steak together. Another night, they stayed in the apartment and made Beef Burgundy with fingerling potatoes and roasted asparagus. They had New York pizza, bagels, street car food. And they also spent considerable time at Henry’s house working with the team for Jaio’s cause.
Michael tweaked all the technology used by the foundation. Working with a team of consultants, he oversaw the creation of a private, encrypted version of Google Trinity for the entire organization to use with authentication protocols and detection of outside attacks and access attempts.
Melanie spent hours on the phone providing answers to questions among the volunteers who called into the foundation’s Call Center. Over the past few months, the Call Center had grown significantly to scale to the exploding demand for information. It operated out of an office in DesMoines. It started as her and her oldest daughter answering questions on their home phone. When that task had outgrown their capacity, Henry funded several college students to man phones in an office downtown.
The three initial students recruited about a dozen others to cover different time slots. And they all donated their salaries back to the foundation, asking only for positive business referrals when it came time for them to seek jobs. Melanie spent her days at the Call Center teaching and guiding the staff in Jaio’s philosophies and in the best answers to provide to the volunteers that called in for guidance.
The Call Center experienced two different types of callers. There were volunteers seeking assistance in spreading Jaio’s word or in delivering a service or in acquiring goods from the foundation’s budding supply chain. And there were individuals seeking more information about Jaio and his message. Melanie took many of the non-volunteer calls and often found herself preaching Jaio’s messages in much the same way that he, himself, had preached them. They received the occasional hate calls and death threats, which she promptly reported to the FBI. But the positive calls outnumbered the negative by about a 50-1 margin.
“If they could see this now,” she thought, of her parents.
Greyson, Michael, Melanie, Cidalia and Missy had spent the morning at Henry’s reviewing a draft agreement with the Pope’s staff. Pope Ignatius III would conduct a public greeting with Jaio just after the homily to the mass that he would say at Yankee Stadium only a couple months away. Greyson had launched himself into the task of networking with the holy staff and communicating the many logistical, security and communication-related details associated with the event. Working through volunteer translators, he served as a Project Manager, convening 3 am conference calls, writing meeting notes and reminding each person with a role in the arrangements of their expected deliverable and time frame. Part of his job entailed securing and documenting each of the many approvals needed to ensure the audience would take place. Henry, himself conducted most of the strategic negotiations.
Missy also guided him. Gina stayed on top of him. Cidalia pitched in and helped him wherever she could. But, for the most part, Greyson quickly assimilated to the role and made considerable progress on his own. It had been only a few months, but he had never worked so hard in the decade since his acting career had fizzled.
The Press conference took place in the Ballroom at the Marriot Marquis. Henry had a standing luxury suite and treated it as a second headquarters outside his home office and the Deltanomics office. On the morning of the press conference, he kissed Olivia in her sleep and thanked his volunteer babysitter. He strolled down, had his breakfast and greeted Gina backstage. He hugged her when he saw the crowded ballroom packed with reporters from domestic and foreign outlets.
“We are on the edge of a phenomenon so much greater than us,” he said. “What Jaio is doing, can really change the world. For the first time in a long time, I actually believe we can create a better, more peaceful society.”
Missy took the podium and calmly announced that Jaio had accepted an invitation to join Pope Ignatius III during his address at Yankee Stadium in the Spring, just a few months away. She expressed the excitement felt by Jaio’s entire ministry and thanked the thousands of volunteers that had assisted in helping Jaio realize his mission to make the world a happier and safer place.
She then introduced Jaio. As he walked across the stage, flashes from hundreds of cameras filled the room like a violent electrical storm with lightning bouncing across the walls and ceiling. Cheers rang across the illuminated stage. And many of the reporters stood in ovation even before Jaio opened his mouth to speak.
In all his years as a child actor, Greyson had never witnessed such celebrity treatment. Jaio stood at the podium for at least a minute with his hands up, beckoning the crowd to settle so he could address them.
Greyson stood at the edge of the black curtain that flanked the stage and peered out through a small gap. He felt a pair of warm, soft hands wrap around his stomach and he turned to greet Cidalia just as she lunged in to kiss him.
“Amazing!” she said in an elevated tone to compensate for the continued cheering from the audience. “They’re reporters. They’re supposed to be neutral and they can’t contain themselves.”
Greyson kissed her again and gave her a huge grin. From behind her, like a shadow, another figure emerged. They had come together by cab.
“This is very impressive,” said Hakim El Amer. “I’m glad I could be here to witness this.”
With the press conference safely behind them, Jaio, Henry, Greyson and the team enjoyed the downtime in Henry’s suite. Cael, Ruben and Henry’s new Chief Security Lieutenant Brad Halsey, whom had left Lloyd’s employment to join the team, spent the early afternoon figuring out how Jaio could address the New Year’s crowd and still maintain his safety. Jaio wanted to walk out into the open space with a microphone or a bull horn – George Bush style – and just start speaking to whomever would listen. He had grown increasingly emboldened as his following grew and his profile skyrocketed.
“There could be no greater safety than shrouded in so many people,” Jaio told Henry, Brad and Cael. “Lack of pre-planning on our side would be reflected in the same lack of planning by any adversaries. We would have an instant audience, with maximum exposure to the press and to the world. We would not need to preschedule an event thereby providing advanced warning to anyone who would seek to harm me or members of our team. We will have the greatest number of security personnel the city will see all year. And it will demonstrate how accessible we are to the people. The real people. We must do this.”
As the typical dynamic, Henry supported the idea and Cael did not. But Cael had learned to trust Jaio’s instinct. He had access to a much larger pool of security agents now. He could flank Jaio with dozens of armed Deltanomics assets. They could have snipers on building tops, with metal detection scanners, ultra-focused listening devices and gunpowder residue sensors. They could leverage bomb-sniffing dogs and infrared night goggles. They had access to so much detection technology, he actually had confidence that he could protect Jaio within the massive crowd – even from an individual that unexpectedly decided to attempt a spontaneous attack. He had managed Jaio’s presence in crowds like this before. He had to leverage the capabilities he had available to him and let go of his natural paranoia.
And he did have fears. Beyond his icy exterior, Cael loved Jaio, like any soldier with whom he had gone to battle. He would die for his ward. And if harm came to Jaio or the followers that listened and responded to him, he would experience a heartbreak so devastating, he wasn’t sure he could recover from it. He was all in on Jaio. He believed with his heart, mind and soul that Jaio was, in fact, “of God”.
Around nine in the evening, Cael led the way like an icebreaker in the Arctic. Ruben and Brad flanked Jaio from behind, forming a protective triangle around him. They stayed close. Henry, Missy, Melanie, Michael and a host of others trailed behind like the tail of a comet. They emerged from the lobby of the hotel and ventured across Broadway and 45th. They sliced through the crowd, anonymously at first. Then, some locals recognized Jaio. He stuck out like a beacon of light in a dark ocean with his flowing robe, long hair and tall, lean physique.
The crowd buzzed. Packs of people followed them as they trekked across Times Square. People called out to Jaio and the cheers reverberated from a murmur to a roar. The local police opened some of the gated areas and allowed the entourage to proceed uninhibited, uptown toward the famous bleachers by Duffy Square on 46th Street. The one block walk took about a half hour with Jaio stopping every ten feet to shake hands and pose for selfies with the tourists who mobbed to see him.
Jaio reached the bleachers and the crowd split, giving him access to the top rung. All around him, like a carpet of human heads, the crowd chanted his name; “Jaio”, “Jaio”, “Jaio”, “Jaio”. He stood at the top of the bleachers for at least 10 minutes waving for the crowd to simmer. But they reached a fever pitch and continued to laud him with their arms in the air.
Strangely, Cael felt relief. The surrounding friendly crowd felt like insulation from adverse elements. He monitored all his frequencies and checked with his entire detail. But nobody reported any issues or challenges. He watched with pride as Jaio thanked his followers and all the volunteers for their hard work over the past year. Cael spun in a circle and took in the scene. There had to be thousands of people encircling them, all favorable.
Jaio towered over the crowd. His image appeared on the jumbo monitor at the end of Times Square. The people around him roared in approval. Photographers lined the front of the risers and snapped away. Later that month, one of the images of Jaio, surrounded by a sea of followers would grace the cover of Time Magazine and find its way into the lexicon of unforgettable American moments.
The Deltanomics assets investigated anyone that looked suspicious, but the chatter among Cael’s staff reported all positives.
Cael stopped to listen further to Jaio’s message.
He had expected flashbacks to the rally in Jeruselem and the anxiety that went with worrying about a repeat event. But instead, he experienced an eerie Zen-like calm. He looked up at Jaio and their eyes met. He could swear that some non-verbal communication occurred between them. He felt Jaio’s approval and gratitude. And he felt something else - an emotion. He didn’t recognize it at first, but he soon realized just how deeply he had come to understand Jaio’s message. In his peripheral vision, the throng seemed to dissipate like ice quickly melting to water and washing away. Surrounded by bodies, but feeling free and unencumbered, Cael stared deeply at Jaio in mid-presentation to his followers and knew what had happened to him. Jaio had taught him to Love.