By: E.A. Sauer
W: 1,857 T: 15 minutes R: Moderate
The stale air was saturated by desperation’s pungent scent. Clearly, she was immune to the crowd of shaking fist growling their disapproval. Caroline watched the futile witch hunt from a bar near the gate. The blue nails of the gate agent blurred over the keyboard in her attempt to assist travelers. A man in a blue sports coat stormed through the crowd, thrusting his ticket in her hand.
“I’m sorry Mr. Anderson, there is a two-hour delay.” She handed him the ticket.
Continuing to berate her, it was obvious he didn’t understand she was handcuffed. He waved a piece of paper in her face. She apologized, informing him there was no way the plane was departing. Sighing, she picked up the microphone from behind the desk.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we understand this delay is impeding your travel plans…”
Caroline removed her earbud. Same shit, different day. The Dallas Fort Worth airport should give her a beverage punchcard due to her frequent travels. She watched the angry crowd slowly disperse across the terminal with luggage in tow. Tapping her manicured nails on the ceramic coffee mug she melted back into the monotonous world of spreadsheets.
“Scotch!” a man yelled slamming his suitcase on the bar next to her.
Caroline ignored him but could feel the burn of his eyes. She glanced at the hazy mirror behind the bar. A forehead crease centered between the aching temples of a middle-aged man reflected back. Caroline smirked dismissively at him as he pulled at the collar of his blue sports coat. Thankfully the bartender was returning with her salad. Besides, it’s not her responsibility to mind the manners of a grown man.
“Here you go ma’am” the bartender smiled, “anything else I can get you?” She smiled checking the time.
“You served her! Get me a fucking scotch!” The man in blue snapped.
Movement ceased, passerby’s paused, and everyone took a deep, chilling breath. Clenching his fist, the bartender blinked disbelievingly at Caroline. The dead quiet of the bar vibrated through them. Heat radiating from his pores, she knew she had to say something to calm the tension.
Caroline smiled, “Could you make this an Irish coffee, please?”
Apparently, it was her responsibility to mind his manners.
The bartender stood still composing himself.
“Absolutely ma’am.” the vein in his neck throbbed. He looked at the man in blue, “I’ll be right with you, sir.”
Shuffling at the doorway, murmuring in the corner, a woman exhaling at the end of the bar; the room began to thaw. The bartender disappeared into the kitchen, leaving Caroline alone with the crazed man. She watched the man through the reflection of the hazy mirror. He seemed hollow, staring at the emptiness where the bartender once stood.
“I’ve been looking forward to upgrading my coffee since I heard our flight was delayed…” Caroline smiled casually at the man in blue. He didn’t move. She motioned toward him trying to break his trance.
“Mr. Anderson, I’m sorry our flight was delayed, but…” Grabbing her arm he whipped around cutting her off.
“How do you know that? How do you know my name?!” He whispered harshly in her ear.
Pulling her arm from his grip, she sputtered, “We’re on the same flight and I heard the gate agent say your name!”
Adrenaline coursed through her body.
“Screw it!” snatching his suitcase of the counter he stormed out.
“There’s no hope for some people.” The woman at the end of the bar jested. Curling her lip in bewilderment, Caroline shrugged her shoulders in response to the woman.
Pink nails clicking on a ceramic mug caught his attention. She checked her phone and gave a half sigh turning towards the gate. She sipped her coffee removing an earbud to hear the announcement. There was a two-hour delay for maintenance. Her surprisingly calm affect led him to believe she was a seasoned traveler.
Returning a bottle to its rightful home, he caught his reflection in the hazy mirror. Staring back was a head of shaggy brown hair and a polyester button up. He was originally hired at the parent restaurant in town. A few weeks ago the manager asked him to transfer to the airport location to cover the holiday rush. A shorter commute and longer shifts would keep him distracted. It had been six months since her death and his agony deepened every day.
The machine whirled alerting him an order was ready. The chef was putting the finishing touches on a salad when he walked in; sitting on a stool he watched the artist at work.
His phone vibrated causing a chill to run through him.
Text Message: Krista: Hello? Why aren’t you responding?”
He grits his teeth.
He should discontinue her number. He’s tried once before but couldn’t follow through. There was a level of comfort seeing her name on his phone. Their last night together plays on a loop in his head.
He reserved a table at their favorite restaurant. Right before sunset, he asked her. The tears of joy and smile on her face were more than he could’ve ever dreamed. In all the excitement, he accidentally soaked her dress in champagne. She kissed him deeply. Smiling, she said not to worry, it was just a dress. He went looking for her when she didn’t return from the ladies room. Despite his training, there was nothing he could do. The weight of her lifeless body in his arms and sight of her missing ring finger will forever haunt him.” He went looking for her when she didn’t return from the ladies room
“Mark, you gonna take this?” the chef called to him, startling him out of his memories. “You okay buddy?”
“Uhh. Yea.” he said shakily. He took a deep breath tucking his phone in his pocket. He needed to call the phone company.
He set the salad on the bar.
“Here you go ma’am” forcing a smile, “is there anything else I can get you?“
She checked her watch.
“You’ve served her. Get me a fucking scotch!” Barked a sleazy man in a cheap dark blue sports coat.
His body went numb. Blood boiled in his veins. He didn’t move a muscle. Blurring his vision, a pulsating violence surged through him. He’s an EMT. He took this job for the distraction. He shouldn’t have to take this shit.
“Could you make this an Irish coffee, please?” She smiled warmly.
He locked eyes with her. Allowing her compassion to coat him and seep through his skin to calm his trembling bones.
“Yes, ma’am of course.” He steadied himself and turned to the man. “I’ll be right with you, sir.”
Brewing a fresh pot of coffee he took a few chugs of whiskey. He shook his legs and arms taming the venom that raced through his veins.
“Screw it!” He heard the man yell across the room.
|they’re after you|
Shifting his suitcase in his hands he unbuttoned his blue sports coat.
|your brothers will find you out|
The back of his neck was hot. He should’ve left yesterday.
|they know it’s you|
His compulsion distracted him.
“What the hell is going on?!” He yelled over the crowd.
Pushing his way to the front, he forced his ticket in her hand.
“I’m sorry Mr. Anderson, there is a two-hour delay.” She handed back his ticket.
“I need to get to Wichita now!” He could feel the heat from the tarmac through the doors behind her.
“What the hell am I supposed to do!?”
“Sir, we have flight vouchers if you want to reschedule.”
|humming Mozart No. 41|
“I don’t want to reschedule!” He yelled over the silent orchestra.
He pulled out the document the department gave him allowing him to travel. She waved him off picking up the microphone. Anger welled in him.
|you’re going to let her talk to you like that?|
He rubbed his temples and cracked his neck. It’s too public.
|we should teach her a lesson!|
Scotch does the trick. He needed it to stop or he’d have an episode.
|giggling: another for our collection, another for our collection, another for our collection!|
He entered the bar near the gate just as the shaggy-haired bartender disappeared. He rubbed his temples reaching in his suitcase for his wallet. The grey cloth that concealed the 3 oz. bottle of toxin briefly grazed his fingertips.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
“Scotch!” He yelled.
He’s already taken four this year. There are rules.
Planned out. Orchestrated. He knew the case inside and out.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
|we can do it, just one more, just a taste|
Pink nail polish caught his eye. Her delicate fingers tapping the cup put him in a trance.
|we don’t have pink|
The bartender returned.
|tippity tappity! imagine touching those pretty nails! tippity tappity! tippity tappity!|
“You served her! Get me a fucking scotch!” He rubbed the back of his neck. If he didn’t control it he’d have an episode. What didn’t this bartender understand?! He pulled at the collar of his coat. They’d search his house, find his treasures, and surely string him up.
|tip tap. tap tap. tippity tappity tap tap.|
Every croak of the monster equivalent to a rusty nail penetrating deep in his skull. Scratching to the surface, the beast within threatened to expose him.
“I’ll be right with you, sir,” said the bartender.
The monster would surely shred the remnants of his humanity.
“…Mr. Anderson, I’m sorry your flight was delayed…”
He snapped back.
“How do you know that? How do you know my name?” He grabbed her.
|easy now easy now we like her|
“We’re on the same flight and I heard the gate agent say your name earlier.” She wrinkled her forehead yanking her arm out of his hands. She was young, probably naïve, he could take her somewhere private.
|give us a treat|
Scotch. He couldn’t take her anywhere if the beast controlled him. He couldn’t hear anything over the growl.
|don’t blame us for your faliures|
“Screw it!” He stormed out.
He walked into the terminal.
He stopped walking. He needs a scotch.
|you’re a pathetic piece of shit|
“Sir, excuse me.”
Looking up he saw blue nails waving a badge in his face.
He stepped to the side allowing her access to the employee stairwell.
His eyes glazed over and the monster within him steadied.
Removing the 3 oz. bottle from his suitcase he soaked the cloth with the nefarious nectar.
She scanned her badge.
He smiled, the door bumped off his toe, swinging open.
“Sir, you can’t…” the toxin muffled her screams.
“Slit vocal cords. Missing ring finger. This is could be our guy. Damn! His ninth victim over two years… FBI, special agent Anderson.” He showed his credentials to the officer.
“How’d you get here so fast?” The officer questioned.
“I’m flying out to investigate a lead in this case. He must still be here. I’ll check surveillance. Lockdown this crime scene.” Removing his FBI jacket from the suitcase, he replaced it with his blue sports coat.