First Friday Fiction–Flashback 1986

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following story consists of selections from a novel I attempted to write in 1986. I chose one of the many characters and excerpted his episodes from a much longer work involving many characters, places, and events. I have rewritten a few sections to update the story and to close two gaping holes in the plot. I am also working on an ending, since the novel I tried to write was never finished. Other than that, most of what you are about to read was written more than thirty years ago. J.

The hours dragged slowly in the private wing of the airport. Security guard Juan Rivera found himself nodding off to sleep again and again. Part of the blame belonged to the book on Juan’s lap: a dog-eared edition of volumes one through nine of the Never Again series. Juan had read these books twice and was now seeing them for the third time. His drowsiness could not be blamed entirely on his questionable choice of literature. The weather was equally to blame: cloudy, with mist and drizzle in the air, the kind of day that induces sleep in the inactive. Not many people felt like flying in such weather, which is why his part of the airport was unusually still.

Days like this did not occur often. Generally at least a few people were coming and going in that part of their airport. Juan did not work for the government; he was an employee of the airport. While normal passengers were being searched and examined in the main terminal, pilots of small aircraft had access to a private parking lot and this private wing of the terminal. A magnetic card got them into the parking lot, and a code number got them into the terminal wing and into the hangar. As pilots, and as owners of airplanes worth more than a million dollars apiece, they had the privilege of being immune to security searches.

Juan liked his duties as security guard in this part of the airport. His presence was largely for appearances—he did not have authority to detain or arrest anyone. Those who walked past him usually were wealthy, and they often were famous as well. Juan took advantage of the opportunity to speak with these visitors, away from crowds of adoring fans, and briefly separated from whatever burdens they were fleeing by air travel or might be approaching by air travel. Juan had no real friends among this crowd, but some of them he genuinely admired. They also amused him with their awkward disguises. Some he had never seen without sunglasses hiding their eyes. Many of them wore strange outfits, based apparently on their perception of how ordinary people might dress. A few traveled in the company of sycophants, but more often they traveled lightly when they came through the airport. It seemed that their reason for travel often involved getting away from people rather than bringing people with them on the trip.

The people using the airport had no trouble recognizing Juan, assuming they bothered to see him at all. Juan was short, stout, and muscular, with broad shoulders and bulging arms. His dark eyes were friendly, and he tried to smile at the people who walked past his position. His jet-black hair was always cut short to prevent it from curling, as was its nature. His uniform was always clean and well-pressed. His black leather shoes were always shiny.

Unfortunately for themselves, few people took the time to recognize Juan Rivera.

Juan looked up from his book, hearing the sound of approaching footsteps. The center figure he recognized immediately: television actress Laura Kinser. Laura tried harder than most celebrities to disguise herself at the airport, wearing sunglasses and broad straw hats, saying little to anyone. Juan always knew her by her large earrings and her figure. Also, not many women fliers visited his part of the airport. Juan watched her show every week at home, but he had never dared to tell her personally how much he admired her work. A bolder man might have used the opportunities available to Juan, but he was shy around beautiful women.

Laura flashed her ID at Juan as she walked past him. He tried to reply with his friendliest grin. She seemed not to notice, although most days she did take the trouble to smile back at him. He tried not to stare as she proceeded to the hangar, even though her tight knee-length skirt gave him reason to want to stare. Juan turned his attention instead to the two men who were walking with her.

They did not seem at all friendly. They seemed to be making Laura nervous. Like her, they wore sunglasses, and their mouths were grim. They might have been bodyguards, judging from their appearance, but Juan preferred to think that they were financial advisors, or perhaps television producers. He hated to believe that anyone as lovely as Laura Kinser would need protection.

A fleck or two of blue began to show between the gray clouds. Juan watched through the window as the small yellow airplane taxied down the runway. The bright color shone against the blue and gray background, Juan thought. He knew that the yellow plane belonged to Laura, and he thought that it fit her personality—sunny, cheerful, and warm. Her wardrobe also included bright-colored clinging blouses that complemented her generous curves, as did the large earrings that had become her trademark. Juan continued to watch, his book forgotten, as her plane raced from the end of the runway, lifting itself in time to clear the trees beyond the airport limits, soaring gracefully into the sky.

The flight lasted barely more than a minute. Before Juan’s horrified stare, the small yellow plane turned first into an orange ball of fire, then a cloud of smoke blacker than the clouds above. The new black cloud pelted the ground with fragments of metal rather than rain.

One of the two men who had accompanied Laura to her ill-fated plane raced back down the hallway, and Juan did not try to stop him. He could not leave his post, but Juan watched as fire trucks and the first investigation teams rushed to do what little they could with the pieces that fell. He saw news crews arrive to interview witnesses (though in his obscure part of the airport, Juan was neglected). The same reporters spoke with authorities from the airport and filmed the scene of the accident.

Juan wanted to crawl away to a place where he could cry. Two of his dreams had been shattered with the yellow plane: the dream of the beauty of flight, and the dream of someday being Laura’s friend. No one came to see if Juan was OK, to ask how the tragedy affected him, or even to inquire whether he knew anything about what had happened. Juan bravely stayed at his post for the last two hours of his shift, and during those two hours he did not cry.

The fiery death of popular actress Laura Kinser was the chief news story across the nation for a couple of days. The loss of a young and popular actress saddened many people. Film clips from her series and from some of her movies were shown on the evening news. Interspersed with those clips were photos of the explosion taken by people who happened to have their cell phones in their hands when they heard the plane explode. Dramatic photographs of the scattered wreckage, interviews with Laura’s family and friends, and shots of the flowers sent to the television studio and to the airport completed the coverage. Tearful fans gathered to hold candles and to remind each other of the tragedy, striking her down at the peak of her career. Life would continue for the nation of survivors, as it does after every shocking death, but America set aside a day or two to be shocked and saddened.

To be continued…. J.

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