Missed Flight

She had one of those doctor's office names: Tori or Lori. And dark, wet, curly hair tied up with a pink hair clip to match her yellow shirt and purple scarf.

"I'm sorry, sir. This can't be your name."

* * *

All I had to do before I left was close up some loose ends. Simple. Which is why the old man picked me. Simple. "So you found the boy and then what?" I asked Georgie Martin.

"I took him back to his mom and dad, like I was told to do."

Georgie was sitting across from me in a booth at Harry's restaurant in Pittsburg, Kansas. It was a straight-shot diner: booths down the left, tables in the middle, counter on the right. I took the last bite of my burger. Some coffee. "You didn't notice any marks on the boy? Cuts? Burns?"

Georgie was looking past me, to the big windows in the front, trying to keep his mind off things. "I dunno, Oscar. I just figured whatever had happened to the boy, you know, he'd gotten beaten up or something."

"And you handed him off?"

"That's what the old man told me to do. I swear. Find the boy. Bring him back to his parents. It took me three goddamned weeks, man. It wasn't easy."

"Sorry it was so difficult." I drank the last of my coffee, looked at the grounds in the bottom of the cup. Tried to take a breath so I wouldn't kill him right there. "I'm sure if the boy was still alive he'd feel bad for you." I set the cup down on the table as carefully as I could, trying not to rattle anything.

Georgie flapped his mouth like he was letting air out of a balloon. "C'mon man, it ain't like that. I'm just saying I didn't know. Wasn't any way for me to know. I just did what I was told."

"The kid was twelve, Georgie. Didn't you even talk to him?"

He wiped some ketchup off of his mouth with the inside of his wrist. "Kid didn't talk. Just cried. All the way from Cassoday to Wichita."

"You tried?"

"Tried, hell." Georgie was shifting around now, pulling at his collar. "He wouldn't talk. Just cried."

"You ever think why he might be crying?" The space behind my head was throbbing and I was trying to take another deep breath. Keep this all calm.

"Somebody had kidnapped him. Molested him. Whatever. If they'd have just gone to the cops." Georgie looked around the restaurant, maybe looking for support from people he didn't know. Maybe looking for a way out.

"You know they couldn't do that," I said, holding my empty coffee cup out for the waitress, a pleasant enough teenager without any apparent piercings or ink.

"I know the old man said that," he said. "Hell, even people like us can get help from the cops sometimes."

The waitress stopped moving when she heard the "people like us" and "cops."

"We're fine here," I said to her without looking. She reached down to take away my plate. I grabbed her wrist and moved it away from the table. "I'll let you know when we need you."

She left in short, skidding steps to the back of the place. I leaned forward. "Keep your voice down. This has to end here."

"Sorry," he said. "I'm just, it's just." He stopped for a second, took a deep breath. "I feel responsible."

"For turning the kid back over to his parents so they could continue to molest him? Yeah. I can see how you might."

Georgie put his chin in his hands and rubbed his eyes.

I leaned back into the bench. He wasn't a bad guy. We'd worked together before. He'd always done right before. He'd just made a mistake this time. That's what he'd tell you.

"I didn't know that. How could I know that?"

I leaned over the table and said in a harsh whisper, "You were with the kid. Did you even think to ask him why he was crying?"

"He wouldn't say nothing. Not one thing." His jaw was shaking. Caffeine. Fear. Realization.

"OK."

"'OK?' That all you got? I take the kid back and he hangs himself because of that and all you got is 'OK'?"

"Yeah."

"Geez, Oscar. I thought you were here to help me clean this thing up. I thought you were on my side. Isn't that what you do? Isn't that why the old man sent you?"

"That's right." I looked into my coffee cup, swirled it around like I was looking at tea leaves. Nothing. "So you didn't discuss this with anyone? No cops? No reporters? Not your barber?"

Georgie ran his fingers over his stubbled head. He smiled. "No, man. I do what I'm told. Me, you, the old man. That's it."

"And the parents?"

George screwed up his face. "Who?"

"The kid's parents. The congressman and his wife. You talked to them when you dropped off their son."

The life fell out of his face. He stared at me. "Oh, yeah. Geez. How are we gonna handle them? Think they'll talk?"

I signaled for the waitress to bring the check. "We'll have to think of something. They know who you are?" She put the check on the table next to ours and went away.

"No, man. I just dropped the kid off and said we'd be in touch. They grabbed the kid and carried him into the house. I never got out of the car."

I frowned at Georgie's word choice. "You said 'we'??" The question hung there for a second.

"Yeah. I didn't say who, though."

I nodded.

I took the check and Georgie made a show of searching his pockets for money.

"I got this, Georgie."

He dropped his shoulders and breathed out of his nose. "Thanks, man. I'll get the next one."

"It's OK. Don't worry about it."

"No, really. I'm good for it. Next meal is on me."

I threw an extra twenty on the table. "Fine." I stood. "Where'd you park?"

He scooted out from behind the booth and took a step towards the back. "I'm out behind the place. Where are you?"

"I'm out front. Lemme pull my car around back and we'll come up with something."

"OK."

He walked towards the back door and I went out the front.

When I got out the door, I turned and headed behind the building, checking my pockets, feeling the weight.

Georgie was standing beside his car, smoking a cigar when I came around the corner. He jerked up. "Geez, man. You scared me." He looked past me. "Where's your car?"

He looked surprised and a little air came out of his mouth when I caught him in the temple with the brass knuckles. He dropped between his Taurus and a pick-up, so I was able to snap his neck without too much trouble. I pulled his wallet out of his back pocket, taking the credit cards and a couple hundred bucks in cash. Looks like the next meal was on him.

* * *

"Your name is on here twice, sir." Tori picked up the sheet of paper from the airport counter and held it in front of her face, as if things would be clearer in the horizontal, as if confusion would fall off of the page with gravity.

The flight was boarding. I didn't have much of a chance.

* * *

I was supposed to just get a hotel, catch a flight in the morning, and be in Chicago by noon. That's not what I did. The boy's name was Blake Goodwin. He was twelve, the same age my son had been when his mother took him. That was ten years ago.

I dumped Georgie off at a speed zone in the road called Frontenac. All I knew about the place was that a hundred years before the town had lost forty-something miners in a collapse. I was hoping they wouldn't notice one more corpse.

I stopped near Fredonia, gassed up the Buick and made a phone call to find out where the congressman lived. Picked up a lighter from a counter display, some cigarette butts from the ground, and put them in a bag. I was at the congressman's house in time for dinner. The neighborhood was gated, but the entrance was automated. I parked at a dentist's office across the street and watched the SUVs roll up, wait for the machine to register and the gate to swing open, then pull through. I drove around for a few minutes to find the closest gas station. I parked at a fast-food place and grabbed something they thought was a milkshake.

After another half-hour at the gas station, I found a Lexus with the right tag. Got it started while he was inside buying breath mints. He'd parked away from the only camera, on the edge of the lot. Lucky for me the driver didn't want any scratches on his car. I'd try to take good care of his baby.

I pulled up to the gate, slowed, then went on through after the gate opened. A couple of turns toward the water, then down Tall Timbers Lane, in a little section that didn't have a tree older than ten years. I took the photo of Blake Goodwin from my pocket. A newspaper story about his disappearance. Grieving congressman and wife, begging for the safe return of their only son. Yeah, safe until he returned.

He had the same haircut Sean had when he went away. I'd kept up the best I could, being so many states away. Sent money that was returned. They didn't need any dirty money, she'd scrawled back. They didn't need a lot of things. Money. Toys. Visits.

Me.

The wooden fence behind the house was high, but the gate was open. I dropped a couple of the cigarette butts there and went in back. Through the ten-foot windows, I saw the wife making drinks at the bar. The congressman was laid out in a leather recliner staring at some wall-sized TV, watching a colorized version of "Casablanca." I felt bad I could only kill them once.

The scene where Ilsa pulls the gun on Rick was starting when I walked through screen door and shot the wife in the shoulder. They were screaming "Oh, my God" and "Jesus Christ" like they were at some fundamentalist snake-kissing service.

"The safe," I said to the husband as I was walking over to the wife.

"Safe? What safe? We don't have a safe."

I shot the TV, which I was going to do at some point anyway.

More screaming. I picked the wife up and put the barrel of the pistol into her mouth. She stopped moving.

"The safe."

She looked past me to her husband. In the reflection of some big, sun-framed mirror in the kitchen I could see him reaching for the phone.

"Tell 911 to bring a bucket for your wife's face."

I had to keep her alive so he had a reason to open the safe. And he had to open the safe for this to look right. I'd kill them both either way, but I hated to see a good plan wasted.

He moved away from the phone towards me. "Office," he stammered. "In the office."

I picked the wife up by her good shoulder and we all walked into the office in the next room. Behind the big desk were pictures of the son they'd spent years molesting. Little league. Class photos. Family shots. He went to the bookshelf, pulled off some books he'd probably bought by the foot, then opened to the wall safe. "I don't know what you're looking for," he said, putting envelopes from the safe onto the table.

"No," I said, splattering the back of his head across the wall. "You wouldn't."

The wife fell down to the floor face-first screaming. I looked at the bookshelves. Bloody chunks clumping along the spines of unread books, sliding down pictures of their son. Violence won't bring back the dead. I'd been told that before. No. It won't. I pulled the wife's head up, her back bending like a yoga pose. "You had a son. You had everything."

"I don't know what you're talking about." She was about to hyperventilate. Short words, clipped, full of snot and tears. Like a beaten child. "Why are you doing this? What do you want?"

I want my son back, I thought. I want what you destroyed.

"My husband," she said, shaking through the tears, "is a very powerful man."

"Was."

"Please. God." She was having trouble breathing. A cracking sound at the back of her throat. Bile. Fear. "You don't have do this," she said, twisting her head, looking around the room, looking for some way out, searching for help that wasn't there. "Please. We are very powerful," she said. "Powerful people. Please. God."

Begging. I thought of their son. Maybe he had begged them to stop before he ran away. Took off. Their own son. I looked at the pictures on the shelf. The same haircut my son had at that age. The blond bowl-cut with the part on the side. The last time I'd seen him. And then the family photos. At the congressman's office. In front of the big politician's desk. Yes. Look at the power. Look at what I can control. Look at what people can take away and destroy.

"When you get to Hell, say hello to my ex-wife." I took a step back and put a bullet through her head. I pulled the slug from the floor and the other from the bookshelf, took the envelopes from the desk.

I knocked over some stuff on my way out. Grabbed the other slugs I'd left. Went to the back fence, dropped the lighter and the other butts out of the bag. Fingerprints from all the cheap folks at the gas station who used the lighter. Cigarette butts from a few people. Let the cops spend their time on all their tests. I like to keep the geeks employed.

I took the Lexus to the burger place and swapped it for my car. Tossed the slugs down a grate as I pulled around. Found the interstate and headed for the airport. I stopped at a lousy diner for some eggs and bacon, left the pistol in the bathroom garbage. Didn't matter if anyone found it. No numbers. No prints. Probably the cleanest thing in the bathroom.

I parked in long-term, dropped the gloves I'd been wearing into a trash can, and took a trolley to the terminal. At the ticket counter, I reached into the wrong pocket and pulled out the newspaper clipping about the boy's death.

"Sir?"

I put it back in my pocket and found the fax from the funeral home.

The woman looked at it. "I'm sorry, sir. This can't be your name."

She looked at me, then back at the fax.

The flight was about to board. If I missed this one, the next one to Chicago was in a few hours. Being the holidays, most of the flights were booked solid. I could still make the service with the later flight, but I wanted to keep moving.

She looked at me and raised her eyebrows. "Your name. Twice."

I took the paper from her, pointed to the last part of the name the funeral home had typed in for the deceased.

"Junior," I said. Of course, he'd gone by Sean. "Sean Martello. Junior." I took a breath. "I'm senior."

"Oh, sir. I'm so sorry. Yes, we can find room for you. But you just missed this one. The next flight is scheduled to leave in three hours."

I looked at her. I hadn't seen my son in ten years. What's another few hours? They'd be putting him in a suit. Arranging flowers. Whatever it is they do. I wouldn't be any help. Never had been.

She typed, handed me the ticket and the fax. I looked at the ticket. "Bereavement Fare." I folded the sheet of paper and put it in the pocket with the newspaper story.

"You can wait in the lounge if you'd like," she said. "I'm sorry for your loss, sir. And I'm sorry you missed your flight."

Yeah. I'd missed a lot of stuff.

-END-



Comments (19)

Chris F. Holm on January 1, 2010 12:14 PM

A hell of a way to ring in the new year. Fantastic.

Chris La Tray on January 1, 2010 1:24 PM

Nice work, Steve. Good to see the final version of this story!

Keith Rawson on January 1, 2010 1:36 PM

Solid, Steve. Your antagonists are always the creepiest motherf*ckers on the planet. Great story!

Evan Lewis on January 1, 2010 2:01 PM

Riveting stuff, Steve. And Casablanca got its just deserts.

Steve Weddle on January 1, 2010 6:46 PM

Thanks, fellas. An honor to be included with such talent here.

David Cranmer on January 1, 2010 9:41 PM

Masterful storytelling. And a terrific way to start year two of BTAP. Thanks.

Blake on January 2, 2010 1:15 AM

My real name is Blake Goodwin are we able to switch that up? Great stuff Steve.

Kathleen A. Ryan on January 2, 2010 9:07 AM

"I felt bad I could only kill them once." Great line in a chilling story, Steve! Nicely done. Fun way to start the new year with a good yarn.

Charles Gramlich on January 2, 2010 10:14 AM

This main character scares me!

Paul D. Brazill on January 2, 2010 12:32 PM

I loved this. "I felt bad I could only kill them once. Cracking piece of work.

Elaine Ash on January 4, 2010 7:42 AM

Hi Steve! Loved your bio. Of course you already know I admired the story. Great working with you. EA

Steve Weddle on January 5, 2010 6:21 AM

Much thanks. Beat To A Pulp has one of the best archives of any online pub, by the way.

Frank Bill on January 5, 2010 9:55 AM

Steve, great short, you need to keep them coming.

Joanne (soulsprite) on January 5, 2010 3:06 PM

Intense! This cleaned up real nice.

kieran on January 6, 2010 11:19 AM

Steve...you. You! Gah! YOU.

McDroll on January 6, 2010 2:38 PM

Steve, this is such a compact story. In such a short piece we learn about the character and the loss of mhis son, there is humour - love the waitress without metal or ink - there is violence, sudden deadly violence and there is emotion; grief, loss, fear, terror and revenge. Superb..bring on the next one. Makes me wantto read more about this character.

Steve Weddle on January 6, 2010 3:32 PM

Frank and McDroll - Thanks. More stories about this guy coming.

Joanne - Thanks. Making these pieces work does take some, well, work. Fortunate to have good folks like Elaine and David to work with.

Kieran - Yup.

Elaine Ash on January 6, 2010 6:41 PM

Steve, Your compliment on our archives must go to d-mix, our web mistress who never misses a trick, and who designed the cleanest, classiest site in e-zines. (My humble opinion, of course.)

G on January 8, 2010 4:06 PM

Great read. Loved how you weaved in that tiny secondary plot with the first.