He was in Newark Liberty Airport again, after an eight-hour, nonstop flight from Amsterdam.
He looped his thumb around a backpack strap and stopped just past Gate 132, turned, surveyed the scene leading back to Gate 137. He watched for the nice, middle-aged woman in the purple sweater–Mrs. Langley–he’d been seated next to during his flight. Once he caught sight of her–waddling her way through the throng, dragging a rolling, bright-red carry-on behind her–he spun and hurried ahead, towards the C-3 Security Check-In.
He reached the blue, “Global Entry” kiosk. Beyond the row of machines were queues of people pressed together with their satchels and bags, aligned by aluminum rails. He scanned in his passport: Aaron Morris Blunt. He winced at the name; most of his friends, and enemies, called him simply “A.” He produced another picture. Did he have anything to declare? “No,” he answered. Security personnel, guards, police milled in the crowd; one of them in a yellow coat approached him.
“Any trouble?” the officer asked.
“No, no sir,” A. answered.
“Why don’t you get in line over there,” the officer suggested with a nod.
“Okay,” he answered. No problem. It gave him an opportunity to scan the lines,to look for Mrs. Langely. He found her, in the next bunch of arrivals over. Perfect. He could easily keep track of her.
The line ground forward. When A. finally reached the TSA officers and the angled counter, and spilled the contents of his pack, he glanced quickly to his right and saw that Mrs. Langley was still a few people back. He was asked to step around, which he expected. He was patted down. He walked through the metal detector while his bag rumbled through the x-ray scanner. He smiled at the TSA workers. “Have a nice day,” one of them said as he collected his things.
He walked off towards the exit doors but halted far enough away so he wasn’t suspicious. He waited and observed as Mrs. Langley finally reached the counter. Her two suitcases were hefted and checked quickly while the lady sweet-talked the agents. She reminded him of his granny. Which hadn’t stopped him from making her his innocent mule. He exhaled sharply as her purse and carry-on made it through the scanner. Her laptop was in a special case and was handed around. He tensed as she emerged, waving for an airport porter.
“Can I help?” A. said as he bounded to her side. “Let me help you with your bags, Mrs. L.”
“Why that’s so considerate of you, Aaron,” she responded.
“It’s ‘A,’ ma’am, folks call me ‘A.'” He lifted a suitcase in each hand. “Where you headed?”
“I’m catching the Air-Train then taking a bus to New York,” she answered. “You go ahead, to the station over there, to your left,” she motioned.
He did as he was told; he had to stay with her until he had an opportunity to retrieve his package–wrapped neatly in a lady’s make-up bag–from her carry-on where he’d stashed it.
They walked into the small, glass-enclosed waiting area of the Terminal C station.
“Just put the suitcases there next to that bench, sit yourself down. I have to get my tickets,” Mrs. Langley said.
He did so, pressing back against the metal slats of the seat, his hands thrust into his jacket pockets. He lost sight of her for a moment, until he felt something cold, hard, and circular pressed into the base of his skull. He jumped instinctively, but the thing stabbed harder into his head.
She leaned down and put one hand on his shoulder, whispered, “I’d keep really still if I were you, Aaron.” She checked who was watching, made a sugary face, flashed a dimpled smile. “You’ve been such a nice young man,” she said loudly, then said quietly in his ear, “I know what you did, Aaron. I usually don’t have any trouble on these trips. Now it looks like I’ve just doubled my profit. You picked the wrong little-old-lady to mess with; I can send you to prison for a long time.”
A. slackened his face, trying not to show the shock he felt. Shit, he thought.
“Now, these trains come every seven minutes, and I’m going to get on the next one, and you’re going to sit there quietly so I don’t have to hurt you….”
“But how,…” he started in a loud tone, then lowered his voice, “… how did you get a gun through….”
“Aaron, dear … shut up.”
And the next thing he knew, she was signalling for an airport worker to help, the train was pulling in, and she and her rolling red bag were trundling through the automatic doors followed by a porter with her luggage.
“Holy fucking shit,” A. said, and lowered his face into his palms.