(You can read part I here)
I sank back deep in my seat as our flight lifted off for Seattle. I caught myself off and on reaching just below my lapel to feel the slight bulge of money sewn into my shirt hem. Was that a sign of nerves, I wondered? I mean, no matter how many times I reach up to feel them they are still going to be there, dumbass.
My instructions ran through my head several times. I had to leave them all behind of course; I could not be caught with them on my person. All that remained of my initial instruction packet was a small letter-sized envelope that was sealed and, according to the instructions, was several hundred dollars and some phone numbers to call in the event of an emergency.
If it weren’t for my responsibility for the cash, I would have thrown the envelope away, because there was no way I was going to call those numbers. Oh sure, yeah they wanted me to call those numbers and beg for help because I was alllllll phukt up and needed heeeeelp. I wouldn’t give anyone the smug satisfaction.
I had an aisle seat, and against the window was a young mother with an infant child. Between us was an empty seat, save for the young-un who opted to occupy it to poke and squirm. At least it wasn’t a morbidly obese, freakishly fat mass that pressed up to me and fenced for the armrest the entire flight.
It would have actually been a sweet flight, had it not been for mom who had her mouth stuck open on full-automatic the entire time, with her annoying habit of talking to me through her baby girl:
“Don’t you poke at that nice man, sweetie. Don’t stare at him; it’s not polite to stare at people, you know. Oh, you’re laughing at the nice man now… is he a funny man, sugar-pop? Hmmmmmmmm?”
I was suddenly taken back to a particularly gruesome story I had seen on TV of late. It was a specific episode of Unsolved Mysteries, where a young mother and her toddler were stabbed to death by a neighborhood handyman as he worked on their kitchen cabinets. While the motive remained unclear, I was pleased with myself by the notion that I may have solved the crime:
“Could it be, that the mother, just… wouldn’t… SHUT THE PHUQ UP?????”
Well, they are in God’s hands now, I surmised as we were notified by our flight crew that we were beginning our descent. Young mother prattled on as I flipped through page after page of grotesquely over-priced parlor trick gadgets in SkyMall magazine. The tie protector seemed legit. It was a tie clip that had a pull ring that brought down a clear sheet of cellophane like a window blind to protect your tie from food splashes while you strapped on a feedbag and jammed your cake hole.
Aaaand she continued: “That’s when I told her, I said: ‘mother, I am a big girl; I am a grown adult and I can make my own decisions.’ Oh, boy she. did. not. like. that, no not one. bit. Then she lays the tired old gilt trip on me: ‘Well pardon me if I love my daughter and am only trying to do what’s best for her!” and so I said: ‘mother, blah blah blah blah blah…” as I envisioned the handyman’s knife sinking deep into her chest.
Suddenly she looked shocked and declared: “Oh my God, I ate the dairy product and I’m allergic to dairy—could you please hold my baby??” Her’s was a demand disguised as a question, as she thrust her baby into my lap and rolled over with her eyes closed. “I wonder if all this shit is part of this mission” scrolled through my head as I looked at baby girl, who blinked at me expressionless.
The jolt of the runway snapped mama back awake, but as we stood to deplane she seemed muddled and confused. “Could you carry Claire just off the plan for me please? Mother will be waiting at the gate to take her.” Sounded peachy to me, and proud papa strutted off the boarding ramp with sweet Ms Claire, and her beached whale mom stumbling behind.
Gawd, there were clearly airport security thugs waiting to grab some poor jamoke, I saw as I stepped into the boarding area. There were three who were immediately at eyes front. At least one of them looked at a piece of paper several times and back up at the passengers. He looked at me and back at the paper, then back at me confused as I pulled my ‘wife’ closer toward me and made raspberry noises with my tongue at ‘our’ daughter, Claire. Mom rubbed her eyes and plodded along as we passed the guards, heading to an older woman who clearly was thrilled to see baby Claire.
At least one of the airport security toads saw me hand the baby off to grandma, and then make my way into the throng of exit-bound folk. They three immediately picked up my six. “This is so stupid,” I thought. WTF am I supposed to do: let myself get caught, not get caught? I stepped out smartly weaving through the crowd like a coral snake through a reed grove.
“If I run, there is no way those toads are going to be able to catch me,” I calculated. But… if I allow myself to get caught, there may be a nice consignment of information to be gleaned about what all this is about. “What’s the worst thing they could do to me, send me back to Bragg?”
So rested he, ‘neath the Tum-tum tree, and stood awhile and thought. Yes, I stood at the bottom of and facing the escalator as the guards piled off. Now the guards and I face to face, one of them began: “Mr. Hand, we have some questions we would like to ask you; would you mind coming with us, please?”
I flashed back to a training event that fit this scenario well. It involved being taken by airport authorities and placed into ‘secondary’ which is a measure of interrogation. The exercise was designed to test our interrogation demeanor, and our familiarization with the cover stories we had developed to explain our travels and actions.
Well, I didn’t have one of those stories at that time, so I would just have to think of something very soon. A point about the training that I vividly remember is how we were chastised as a class for all of us agreeing immediately to go peacefully when rolled up by airport guards. “Nobody really does that, men… people don’t just blindly walk off with guards like you all did. They put up some resistance.”
“He’s right; absolutely right. I’ll not make that same mistake again!” I promised myself. So I stood defiantly before the guards and gave them my answer: “Hell no, I won’t go.” And the shocked guard continued after a pause at length: “Come on Mr. Hand, just play the game.”
Ah, so a game it was, was it? I had obtained my first shred of intel about this boondoggle I was on.
“I really hope this is just a stupid test… This is only a test. Had this been an actual emergency I would have been given instructions where to go in my area for assistance” I thought as I was led through a card-swipe door, and into a sort of meeting room with an oval table centered, and several suits sitting in chairs all around.
“Have a seat, Mr. Hand” invited the central authority figure.
“Yes, thank you Mr… Mr… I’ll just have a seat right here if that’s ok with everyone, Mr… Mr… well alrighty then.”
I looked across the long axis of the table to the gent who appeared poised to ‘carve the turkey.’ As I looked his face over, I focused on the bookshelf behind him. Hello! There was single aspect video camera pressed between some books. I looked 90 degrees to my right and searched for a second aspect camera. Nothing. It wouldn’t be behind me, so I scanned to the right and sure enough, second aspect camera was just there mounted under a shelf.
I tried not to stare at either camera, tipping that I had fingered them, and I dared not smirk and wink at them, as that would invite a much harsher interrogation from the James Gang here at the table.
The turkey carver at the head of this thankful table pulled out and lit a cigarette with great ceremony and ritual. No one uttered a sound lest they disturb the passage. He sucked a long drag and exhaled slowly; he studied me through smoke.
Oh $hit… I… I thought I was going to laugh—don’t laugh!! Do not laugh at all costs. I couldn’t help it, the scenario was just too corny, and I imagined the smoker saying in a German accent: “Your pay-pahs are not in ordah.” And you know when you try to suppress a laugh, it makes it come our messy. Not wanting to blow spit and boogers across the room, I let a hardy laugh peel out to the room of startled suits.
(To be continued in Part III)
Featured image courtesy of Getty