Flashback 1986, part two

You can read part one here.

Two days later Juan was back at his desk in the airport’s private wing. Once again he sat through a gray and cloudy day, as if nature itself wept for Laura Kinser. Once again Juan felt sleepy, since no one came to visit his part of the airport on such a gloomy day.

In his mind Juan could still see the orange fire and the black cloud, as he could still see the yellow airplane peacefully lifting off the ground a moment earlier. He tried not to look outside. At home the night of the explosion, watching the evening news and the memorials to Laura, Juan had finally cried. The tragedy weighed heavily upon his heart.

Juan tried to distract his mind by any other subject: politics, religion, even the Never Again series. He forced his mind to try to puzzle out the secret identity of a character identified only as “the Avenger.” As before, Juan was distracted by the sound of footsteps, but this time the person approaching was running. Moreover, the sound came from a hall that led to an abandoned warehouse—nobody should have been running toward Juan from that direction.

The woman who came around the corner from that hall was about the same height as Laura Kinser, and she had a similar figure. Both these facts made Juan’s heart race, and he felt as if his heart had risen into his throat. The woman’s face was not familiar to Juan. He had little time to react to her sudden appearance, because she ran up to him, saying, “Please protect me! They’re trying to kidnap me! Please help me!” Already Juan heard heavier footsteps approaching from the same hall the woman had just exited.

He had no time to ponder a decision. Juan did what seemed natural at the moment—he took the woman by the arm and swung her around behind his desk, pointing to the space where his chair belonged. At the same instant that the woman’s head disappeared under the desk, a man came around the corner, following the same path she had taken. Juan pointed down the hallway that led to the main terminal. The man nodded and did not stop running. Juan stood by his desk, wondering what he was going to do next.

Two or three minutes passed. Juan looked down at the woman cowering under his desk. “I don’t think he’s coming back,” he said. “You can come out now.” She looked timidly up at the security guard and only reluctantly abandoned the safe shelter he had offered. As the two of them talked, she continued to glance nervously down the hall to assure herself that the pursuit had not returned.

“So,” Juan said, still standing. “What’s all this about?”

The woman shrugged. Juan could see that her hands were trembling. “They kidnapped me—I don’t know why. They didn’t seem to expect any ransom, and they didn’t try to harm me. They never even spoke to me. I don’t know what they wanted.”

Juan frowned. “They locked you in a warehouse for no reason at all?” He wasn’t questioning her; he was trying to solve the puzzle with her. Juan noted that the woman was wearing slacks that were too big for her. His keen eyes even discerned that the white shirt she was wearing buttoned as a man’s shirt, not a woman’s shirt. Her feet were bare. He wondered about the strange outfit, but instead of discussing her clothing, he said, “They never gave you any indication of what they wanted?”

She shrugged again. “They just grabbed me and threw me in there and locked the door. When they brought me here, I had no idea what they were planning to do to me. I still don’t know what they wanted. All I know is that they had a gun. I didn’t bother to ask any questions.”

Juan observed that she was wearing no make-up. Her eyes were large and brown, her nose small, her lips full. Her black hair was tied in a loose bun. Juan found her attractive in a girlish way, even though he could see that she was well beyond her teens. “Perhaps we should formally introduce ourselves,” he offered. Bowing slightly at the waist, he continued, “I’m Juan Rivera, at your service.”

The woman smiled slightly, though her hands continued to shake. “I’m very pleased to meet you, Officer Rivera,” she said, extending her arm to shake his hand. “My name is Laura Kinser.”

Whether she really was Laura Kinser or not, clearly she could not continue to hide under Juan’s desk. Still, she remained close to the desk and ducked underneath it whenever she heard footsteps approaching. Over the next two hours, she hid five times. Twice she was hiding from people walking toward their planes, but the other three occasions were legitimate reasons to hide. The man who had been chasing her went back to the warehouse, then out again, and then back once more. He never stopped to ask Juan any questions, although once he stared hard at the security guard while walking past him. Self-consciously, Juan fingered his badge while he tried to look engrossed in the book he was pretending to read.

His shift was about to end, and the woman who claimed to be Laura Kinser did not appear to have a plan to get out of the airport. “Do you have a home, or someplace I can take you?” Juan asked. He hoped the question did not sound impolite.

She looked up at him, her large eyes wide with fright. “Oh, no, I can’t go home,” she explained. “That’s the first place they’ll look.”

Juan gazed at her. Under her baggy clothing, she did appear to have a figure resembling that of Laura Kinser. If one imagined the appropriate make-up, perhaps sunglasses, and of course the trademark earrings, he mused, she just might pass for the actress. Then he thought, no, something else was missing. He wasn’t sure what it was. At the same time, even though she was probably not Laura, she was a woman in trouble, and his job was to help her.

“Who are they?” he asked gently. “What do they want from you?”

“I told you—I don’t know.” She looked as though she was about to cry. “They talked to each other as though they had a plan involving me, but I never heard what it was.” She put her hands over her face. “I’m so scared.”

Juan wanted to hug her. He wanted to tell her that everything was going to be alright. Instead, he placed a hand on her shoulder. “I can’t do much to help,” he warned her. “I’m only a security guard. I don’t even have a gun. But if I can slip you out of the airport, I can put you up in my apartment for a day or two. That is, if you don’t mind sleeping on the couch.” She looked up at him gratefully, so he added, “Mind you, it’s only for a couple of days, until you figure out what to do.”

“Oh, thank you,” she said, sobbing, reaching out to hug him.

Juan accepted the hug as he asked himself, “How do I keep getting involved in things like this?”

To be continued… J.

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.