---This is a work of FICTION. Any resemblance of characters portrayed in this work to actual people is purely coincidental.---
The Vice President of the United States has three functions. One function is to campaign for the next election while the POTUS runs runs the machinery of the Executive Branch. The second function is to attend funerals of foreign Heads of State and other tedious and time consuming Events-of-State. The third function of the Vice President is to be ready to take over for the President should he/she become incapable of executing the duties of that office.
The Vice President was scheduled to attend Dr. Gracie Sherman’s funeral for the first two reasons.
Gracie Sherman’s endorsement was good for an additional 4% turn-out in the State of Michigan. If you were a Progressive and got on her bad side there was no possibility of winning a primary. While Dr Sherman had passed away, somebody was going to inherit her position. Vice President Harriet Karmann would leave no low-hanging fruit unpicked.
She could ill afford to appear to slight the community Sherman had represented. Far better to appear to deeply concerned than to have to justify not going to the funeral.
The Tabernacle of Divine Power and Grace milked the event for all it was worth. There were viewings and services at the mega-church for “regular folk”. The pomp and ceremony would have made Lenin blush.
Then the body was moved to the downtown church for the movers-and-shakers could pay homage without having to rub elbows with commoners.
Vice President Karmann-Ghia had to endure at least one of these events a month. The hustlers elbowed their way in front of TV cameras and engaged in rhetorical duels with hyperbolic flights of fantasy, bombast, self-promotion and victimology.
The local and most marginal hustlers started out first. They were allotted ten minutes and invariably took fifteen. The final speakers before the Governor and VP were the Right Reverend Jeramia Johnson of Illinois and Reverend Alberson Dullard of New York. They would undoubtedly overstay their time slots by 100% and fill it with soaring rhetoric devoid of any identifiable grammatical construction or inhalations. Their audience adored them.
For every speaker there were two "back-ups" hoping for national exposure.
VP Karmann-Ghia was not a woman who projected emotion easily. Frankly, she was a cold-fish with a complete lack of empathy and it showed. Her handlers had her practice her look of “transported by rapture” in front of a mirror for just such occasions. Footage of every two-bit hustler played "back home" in that activist's home city and interlaced with images of Karmann-Ghia nodding and looking rapturous was a guaranteed 4% bump on election day.
The Secret Service was happy to have a smaller venue to secure.
The church itself was a cavernous, masonry building that had been built 150 years ago when downtown Lansing was a booming hub. All of the mainline denominations built massive, showy buildings with names like First Baptist, First Congregational, First Methodist and so on.
The Pastor who was in charge of the construction project was a dour, frugal man. He did not want fancy. No buttresses or fancy arches for him. Just give him the maximum number of square feet on the inside at the very lowest cost.
The workmen obliged him. The masons built walls that would have been intimately familiar to masons in the time of Rome. They built cut stone-and-mortared inner and outer walls with dry-rubble fill between them. It was the structural equivalent of cheap furniture boards made of pressed sawdust and faced with laminate.
McKeown, the lead stone-mason was horrified. He had emigrated from Ireland during the potato famine after learning the stone-mason trade. Back in Ireland, most of the stone was limestone which conveniently broke into flat, easy-to-stack flags. The stone in Michigan had been ripped out of the ground of northwest Ontario and polished beneath the glaciers to rounded cobbles. Where limestone flags could be dry-stacked into a twenty-foot wall without a dab of mortar, trying to stack glacial rock and boulders was like trying to stack just so many ball bearings.
McKeown did what he could. Like every crew, there were a few boneheads who were not very useful. He put them to work splitting the rounded cobbles so they had at least one flat face.
Every twelve feet of wall he had his masons trowel in mortar to form a web joining the inner and outer walls. At least they did when the Pastor was not watching the work. The Pastor could not abide waste and he was certain God would hold the building up.
McKeown’s crew built the walls 80 feet into the air and then laid in the vaulted roofs over the scaffolding. The expansive spans held propped up on slender, cast iron columns which gave every pew a near-unobstructed view of the pulpit.
The Pastor was happy. McKeown’s faith in God was restored as each run of scaffolding was knocked out beneath the roof some 120 feet above the floor and the walls did not crumble or splay.
Since that time, McKeown had passed on and 150 years of acid rain had eaten away at the lime-and-sand mortar.
The walls were dotty and rotted when Dr. Sherman bought the building. She brushed off the advice of the inspectors. She had a budget and it was all dedicated to internal renovations.
Plush stadium seating that was arranged concentrically, facing the stage. A shell designed by acoustical engineers was suspended from the ceiling so Dr. Sherman could speak in a conversational tone and everybody in the audience could hear her as if they were sitting across a kitchen table from her.
The chairs were packed and dignitary after dignitary took the stage and gushed with fulsome praise for the recently deceased Dr. Sherman, a woman whom many of them heartily detested.
The detonation of the fifteen pounds of black powder that members of the Gaia Liberation Front had blown into the dry rubble made a muffled BUMP and a cloud of dust blew into and swirled about the sanctuary.
The Secret Service went on-point and surrounded the VP to protect her and orient a defense against the threat. Only if warranted would they make a dash toward the designated escape route. The VP’s high-heel shoes mitigated against rapid movement and they were under orders to not let her twist an ankle.
Black powder is used in quarries as an explosive because it provides a slow, gentle push rather than a shattering shove. Consequently, stone can be harvested in large blocks rather than small rock and gravel.
That “gentle push” fractured the ancient and leached mortared webs that tied the inner and outer facing walls together.
Far above the Secret Service, five thousand cubic feet of rock in the vaulted roof were deprived of the side forces that kept them locked together in compression.
It takes objects approximately two-point-seven seconds to fall from a height of 120 feet and hit the ground.
With the exception of an eighty year-old with a tiny bladder, every one of the audience was buried beneath 1.3 million pounds of rock and mortar.
The air was redolent of stone-dust, human feces from bowels rent assunder and the smell of sulfur from the black powder