April 3, 1993
The smell of new leather. Shakespeare was convinced that nothing smelled like success more than the leather interior of the new BMW. He was rolling now. The money was coming in—the orders were, too. Life was very good. He’d just rented a new apartment near the University of the District of Columbia campus. During the past year, he’d managed to move far up the food chain and away from the squalid apartment he once shared with his grandmother.
The juxtaposition of his grandmother’s image and the smell of the new car transported his thoughts to an earlier time in Washington, DC, while the car moved south on Interstate 95.
She was strict, but he knew she loved him dearly. No matter how bad things got—and the misery of that sad, little apartment was filled with more bad memories than good— grandma would always find some small change for a soda or ice cream cone on a hot summer night.
The cold blast from the car’s powerful air conditioning system jerked him back to the present. No, sir, he wasn’t going to be hot and sweaty any more. And he could just about afford anything he wanted. Yet, he knew his grandma wouldn’t be proud of his new-found success. If she were still alive and knew that he was a drug courier, her temper would flare, and he would once again feel the wrath of a God-fearing woman who would more proudly bear her poverty than the wealth offered by the sin and depredation of the drug trade.
Shakespeare succumbed to the lure of a small fortune and a better life style. He’d overlooked the hazards of his new profession—dazzled by the money and the prospect of living large. For the first time in his life he had the things he admired and desperately wanted as a teenager.
Growing up in the sad public housing projects, located just blocks from the wealthy and powerful folk who ran the government, created an overwhelming need for material things and wealth. Just as food stems the hunger, Shakespeare’s money, his new crib, his clothing, and his new BMW—but especially the new car—filled an organic need that festered and grew throughout his deprived childhood.
Still, he didn’t want to end up in jail like his father, or dead of an overdose like his mama. All those years of the wailing, screaming sermons delivered by his grandma had at least some effect. No, he’d only make another couple of runs, and then he’d have enough money to set himself up in something legitimate. Money blessed him with options.
Options, the word sounded so rich to a poor boy. Options sure as hell beat the despair and hopelessness of poverty.
He looked out the window of the well-known suburban Miami hotel into the brilliantly lit parking lot. He just couldn’t take his eyes off of the BMW. It looked so good, and he worried about it whenever it was out of his sight. Even the rich velour hotel robe wrapped around his slender frame didn’t make him feel better, unless he knew his car was safe.
The telephone call came an hour later.
“You sure do like living uptown,” said the man in a condescending tone of voice.
“Look,” Shakespeare replied, “the feds wouldn’t think of looking for a drug deal in this hotel because—“
“Shut up!” the interruption was filled with rage. “You talk too much, and you think you know it all. Just leave the money in the briefcase under the bed. Tomorrow morning go for a swim, rich boy, and while your room is being cleaned we’ll make the swap.”
“I don’t know about that,” Shakespeare said trying to sound brave when he knew he wasn’t. “How do I know that you’ll leave the stuff?”
“You don’t, you fuck,” the man laughed, and the telephone line went silent.
Shakespeare didn’t want a repeat of his last meeting with the Panamanian. Nor did he want to face his client empty handed back in Washington, DC. He really wasn’t cut out for this work, and everyone in the business seemed to know it. Rather than give the problem anymore thought, he turned out the light and fell asleep.
To Norman Ramón it was just another hit. The only time he was happy was when he could make the guy sweat before he killed him. It gave him a sense of power that he’d missed since leaving Panama. He liked making that kid, Shakespeare, shit his pants over the telephone.
Now the fun was over, and Norman Ramón, dressed like a room service waiter, walked down the hotel hallway toward Shakespeare’s room. When he reached the door marked 1147, he looked both left and right and then placed the room service tray on the floor next to the door. The tray contained the discards of another guest’s dinner. Ramón found it near the service elevator and used it to help establish his cover as he made his way to Shakespeare. Using the passkey he found during his last visit to the hotel, he quietly opened the door and slipped inside the darkened room.
The room was actually a suite. The bedroom, framed by French doors, lay beyond the entrance foyer on the far side of the living room. Ramón moved silently to the doors and carefully opened one of them. He moved quickly around the bed while withdrawing a large piece of plastic wrap from inside his jacket.
The sound of the unfurling plastic made enough noise to awaken Shakespeare, and he felt a heavy weight on his chest. Ramón, now straddling his victim’s chest and pinning the boy’s arms beneath his knees, held the plastic over Shakespeare’s face. The boy’s initial wakeful response was to take a sharp deep breath which served only to suck the straining plastic into his mouth and effectively seal off his airway. Ramón carefully shifted his position to ride out the boy’s thrashing body and still hold the plastic firmly in place. The struggle was over quickly, too quickly for Ramón who enjoyed watching his victims’ torment, but he continued to hold the plastic over the boy’s face until he was sure that the kid, Shakespeare, was dead.
“Shakespeare,” he quietly spat the boy’s name. A young college punk trying to make quick and easy money carrying product north for his boss. But Shakespeare’s boss needed to learn a lesson, and killing the boy would do that nicely. The local DEA office was suddenly proving to be a problem for Ramón. There were questions about the “bad paper.” That wasn’t part of the deal with Shakespeare’s boss. The DEA wasn’t supposed to be a problem. “It’s all taken care of,” everyone promised. And Shakespeare’s pick up wasn’t supposed to be a problem either.
According to Ramón’s calculus, Shakespeare’s death was a subtle way of sending a message about promises not kept. The fact that he despised this kid he just killed was an added bonus.
The act made him powerful again, if only briefly.
John Wilkerson, the hotel’s MOD—Manager on Duty—was new to the Miami area and its Hispanic culture. Coming from the Midwest, he found it difficult communicating with the hotel’s housekeeping staff. He was having an especially trying time understanding the eleventh-floor maid right now. She was screaming about something, or someone, he just couldn’t tell what.
Looking down the hallway he saw her cart outside of room 1147. Whatever had her in a dither must be in that room. So, Wilkerson, trying to demonstrate the calm, controlled manner drummed into him in management training, led the hysterical maid toward her cart and room 1147.
Inside the suite, Wilkerson found the maid’s problem—now his problem. A young, black male, with plastic over his face, was dead on the right side of the king-sized bed. The boy’s grotesque facial features caused Wilkerson to momentarily lose control. He shivered at the sight of Shakespeare’s bulging eyes and distorted facial features frozen in a death mask of wild surprise.
Wilkerson fought for self control and focused on the checklist he was to follow whenever a MOD encountered a dead guest: Call hotel security, secure the room, make sure nothing is disturbed, keep all witnesses available for the police investigation, and call the General Manager.
By the time the Miami Police Department responded to the call, hotel security had put together all of the information on the corpse. He had checked in late last evening paying for his room with a corporate American Express card. The hotel reservation for a one night stay had been made through the Marriott toll-free reservation number earlier in the day. The valet from the parking concession remembered the guest because he was nervous about letting anyone park his car. Even though the car was now missing, the valet had no trouble describing it to hotel security.
The homicide investigator arrived first. After all, the hotel had reported a dead body. The dispatching protocol followed by the Miami Police Department called for homicide to investigate without first sending out a patrol car.
When Detective S’barra arrived at room 1147, he knew that he would be first on the scene. That was good. Too often patrol cops screwed up the crime scene making it impossible for forensics to lift anyone’s fingerprints except those belonging to the patrol cop. The lectures at the police academy just weren’t doing the job. These new guys made every crime scene look like a herd of elephants had trampled the victim to death.
S’barra looked at Shakespeare’s body and knew instantly what he’d found. Young black male with 18 karat gold chains around his neck, leather pants folded neatly on the wood valet next to the bed, and according to hotel security, a new BMW in the parking lot.
A drug courier all right, but what happened?
He looked in the closet and under the bed. Clean. No suitcase, no briefcase, no money, and no drugs. Thank God for the small victories. If S’barra found anything from a drug deal, then he had to call in one of the scuz balls from the Drug Task Force. He didn’t like working with any of those guys. They all looked and dressed like the enemy, and he sure wouldn’t want to trust one of them to cover his back if things turned nasty.
Using his handkerchief, he carefully picked up the telephone receiver in the other room and called the dispatcher.
“Listen, this is S’barra over at the Marriott. Any idea when the Coroner’s team is coming?” he asked sarcastically.
S’barra had the reputation of being a wise ass. He asked questions when he already knew the answer, and he usually mimicked the bureaucratic responses, word for word, just to drive the other party crazy.
“They’ve been notified, S’barra,” both he and the dispatcher replied nearly simultaneously. The dispatcher had been through this scene with S’barra before, but it still didn’t keep him from losing his temper.
“Look, S’barra, I can’t make them move any faster,” the dispatcher volunteered.
Without responding, S’barra carefully placed the receiver back into the telephone cradle.
S’barra reached into his trench coat and withdrew the packaged camera. The camera said it all for S’barra. The new fiscal reality of police work required every homicide investigator to request one of those new disposable cameras preloaded with film from the supply clerk before responding to a call. Now, every investigator was also a photographer. Too many crimes happening too quickly to send real photographers to each crime scene. So here he was, fifteen years on the force, taking pictures of a dead man like a fucking paparazzi.
Ramón had what he might describe as a rewarding night. One message sent, a briefcase that just happened to hold $750K, and another quick ten large for dropping the BMW at a chop shop located near the airport. And it hadn’t cost him a thing.
He had plans for all of it. Ramón knew that he had to send the money back to DC. It was one thing to send a message, but another to take what didn’t belong to him. His DC contacts knew Ramón was an honest businessman who observed a strict code of ethics. As long as the game was played by a set of acceptable rules, no one got hurt. Step over the line, however, and Ramón would send you a message that brought you back into line.
Killing a little prick like Shakespeare was okay. Taking someone’s money without providing the expected goods wasn’t. So, the money was going back. In fact, he’d deliver the money in person.
That was another of Ramón’s characteristics. He liked to deliver his messages in person.
He looked at the ten thousand dollars. Walking around money—-another benefit Ramón hadn’t experienced since leaving Panama.
Ralph Carruthers was not being paid this day, and like anyone who was self-employed, that was cause for concern. Instead, he was attending a stockholders’ meeting of Subscriber’s Review in Miami. Carruthers always purchased stock in the companies for whom he provided consulting services. It was always easier to take an “owner’s view” when writing a report. Too many of his colleagues lacked this perspective and it showed as they glibly fired off several thousand words and moved on to the next client.
“We’re going to focus our technology investments to support the firm’s strategic initiatives,” the voice came thundering across the sound system.
The current speaker, like all of the others, was not only boring, he was lying through his teeth. Clarke Williams, Vice-President for Information Technology, was stringing together buzzwords and sound bites that described how he was going to spend his $65 million budget in 1993. Subscriber’s Review was one of Carruthers’ clients, had been since 1985. He was acutely aware of how little Clarke Williams understood technology. Under his inept leadership, the firm badly squandered hundreds of millions of dollars with little or nothing to show for it.
Like most firms, the long-term Information Technology plan for Subscriber’s Review looked like a collage of the headlines from the industry trade journals. Each week there was a new technology, or a new application of existing technology, and Subscriber’s Review was chasing them all, and doing a very bad job of it.
Carruthers looked at his watch and realized that if he stayed much longer he’d have to spend another night in Miami. The bad air in the room made breathing difficult. His allergies were starting to bother him too. So, the thought of spending one more night in a city he didn’t like wasn’t pleasing.
After stepping on only three sets of toes, he beat a hasty retreat. Carruthers walked out into the bright Miami sunshine and found himself at the taxi stand waiting for a cab to the airport
Carruthers wasn’t the only one who wanted to sneak away early. He waited his turn in a long taxi line filled with others eagerly departing the stockholders’ meeting, and climbed into a cab outfitted like a religious shrine. There were beads, religious icons, even a votive candle, and of course, the cab driver professed to speak little, or no, English.
“Miami International Airport,” Carruthers barked. Somehow, the increase in volume was intended to transcend the language barrier.
“Sí,” replied the cabby.
The cab driver exited the Marriott parking lot and headed away from the interstate that would take them to the airport.
“Wait a minute!” Carruthers yelled. “You’re going the wrong way!”
“Fast streets are mala suerte, senor,” smiled the driver. “This street better. This street brings good luck.”
The cab driver pulled into the airport’s departure and drop-off zone an hour later. The ride should have taken fifteen minutes. Carruthers knew he couldn’t make the 4:30 p.m. United flight to Washington Dulles. He reconciled himself to killing three hours in the airline club. This unpleasant thought weighed heavily on his mind as he computed the cab driver’s tip. When the cab driver saw the meager gratuity he asked, “Here safe, no?”
Carruthers replied, “Here very 1-a-t-e,” as he placed emphasis on the disappointing part of the ride.
The cab driver obviously felt safety took precedence over punctuality and he repeated the earlier question, “Here safe, no?”
Carruthers doubled the original tip while chiding himself for being a sap. He knew by paying the larger tip he had doomed many a business traveler to slow, out-of-the-way trips with this driver. The cabby now held the only proof that mattered. Safe arrivals are more remunerative than timely arrivals.
The check-in counter at United, now between flights, was empty and he had little difficulty in checking in his luggage.
The limo glided into the reserved airport parking area. Like many livery vehicles in the Miami area, this one possessed silvered windows. The occupants could see out, but no one could see inside.
Norman Ramón used both of his hands to push away the rump of the unconscious hooker so he could pull up the zipper of his pants. The extra physical effort only served to point out that Ramón had chosen poorly when cruising the red-light district. He always thought of himself as an excellent judge of female flesh, but clearly this time he had erred on the plump side which served only to heighten the rage he directed at the limp body.
Back in Panama, Ramón had his pick of any woman he wanted. As an officer in his country’s Internal Security Group, Colonel Norman Ramón would cruise the villages in his jeep looking for what pleased him. He often spent weeks looking before he selected one of his fellow citizens. And then, in the name of security, a daughter, sister, or mother would disappear. His victims were always beautiful with classic features. Now, in this country, he was forced to choose from the putana. The thought disgusted him.
The hooker, whose head was now buried in the carpet of the limo, was turned so her eyes stared blankly toward the driver’s side door. The driver had been with his boss many times when Ramón’s idea of passion turned to violence. Disposing of dead, or near dead, bodies so that they would not be found was now one of Luis Guiterríz’s special talents, and he smiled at the thought of adding this skill to an imaginary resume.
In Panama, Guiterríz had only to discard the Colonel’s women in the mass graves used to hide those stolen from their homes in the name of national security. In the U.S., Guiterríz was forced to employ the full range of his talents to avoid problems with local law enforcement. In Panama, they were the law.
Like the others, this body would be driven to the tuna processing factory where powerful machinery would place equal parts of flesh into cans of tuna very popular in the Midwest. The thought of the hooker being served for dinner all across the nation’s heartland only added to Guiterríz’s euphoria.
Ramón, ever careful of his appearance, focused on his image in the limo’s lighted, make-up mirror. His entire thought process conveniently overlooked the dead body at his feet and concentrated on the image looking back at him from the mirror.
When he was satisfied with his appearance, he grabbed the door handle and exited the vehicle. Guiterríz quickly closed the door, and moved to the now open trunk removing a single piece of luggage which he handed to his boss.
This was Ramón’s first look at the new bag, and he smiled ever so briefly at Guiterríz signaling his satisfaction with the purchase. Guiterríz, who was by now familiar with all of Ramón’s wants and needs, had chosen the bag according to the brief description Ramón provided. Inside the bag was the money Ramón intended to return to Shakespeare’s people.
Without saying a word, Ramón walked through the airport doorway into the cool climate of the passenger concourse. He moved to the ticket counter and requested a round-trip ticket to Washington National Airport. Ramón was very unimpressed with the ticket agent who stood on the other side of the counter. This putana wasn’t showing him the respect he deserved. Instead, she was engaged in a long running conversation with a handsome young male colleague at the adjoining service point.
“So, I’m here for another two hours without a break because he screwed up the schedule,” she complained. “This is the third time this month, and I’m going to talk to the union rep about it!”
The young man regarded this last statement doubtful, and the woman sensing his disbelief continued, “I mean it this time. Will you be checking any baggage today, sir?” She addressed Ramón while maintaining eye contact with her neighbor.
Ramón casually set the bag on the scale prior to signing the credit card voucher for his airline ticket. He intended to carry the bag aboard. But before he could respond, the young attendant secured the routing ticket to the bag and placed it onto the carrier belt. The bag quickly disappeared through an opening in the floor to the staging area below.
By the time Ramón looked up from the voucher to speak, the bag was gone. Instantly, he realized the money was now out of his control.
“You little fuck!” he roared.
Leaning over the counter, he grabbed the ticket agent by her neck. The unexpected attack caught the young girl unaware of Ramón’s intended harm. As he tightened his grip, their eyes met, the sheer evil of his gaze now apparent caused the girl to lose control of her bowels as she opened her mouth to scream.
Standing just ten feet away was the ticket security officer, who witnessing the developing scene, moved quickly to apprehend Ramón. Ramón, still clutching the girl’s neck, was determined to maintain his grip even as the girl slumped to the floor. Her downward movement pulled Ramón up and on to the counter. As Ramón’s feet started to come off of the ground, the security agent placed one arm over his head in a neck hold designed to halt any further movement, while he pressed the stun gun into the small of Ramón’s back. The sound of crackling electricity rendered Ramón’s legs and torso limp. Yet, he continued his death grip on the girl’s neck even while he was crumbling to the floor. The nearby ticket agent, previously frozen in place by the scene unfolding before him, now acted to pry Ramón’s hands from his friend’s neck.
The Miami airport authority had recently installed a new electronic luggage system. Each baggage ticket featured a bar code specifying the airline and flight number. Scanners mounted along the motorized belt searched for the bar code. The computer determined the bag’s destination, and activated a series of flippers and paddles, much like a pinball game, to shuttle the bag toward the others destined for the same flight.
The system works almost flawlessly.
Ramón’s bag had its routing tag prominently displayed. It moved through the maze of conveyer belts and switch stations until it was unceremoniously dropped onto the floor with other bags ticketed for the same flight.
United flight 847 to Washington Dulles had been delayed for mechanical problems. Now two hours beyond its original time of departure, there was still no estimate for when the engine repairs would be completed.
Carruthers had been pleased to learn his flight was delayed. He still had to kill time in United Airline’s, Red Carpet Lounge, but he no longer faced the prospect of the additional charges and red tape for changing flights.
Carruthers sat watching the CNN broadcast nursing his drink. Occasionally, he would glance at the departure monitor to see if a new departure time was posted for flight 847.
At least he didn’t have to wait at the boarding area.
Other passengers for flight 847 were growing impatient and uncomfortable. The next United flight was supposed to depart from the same gate in 20 minutes. Flight 919 to Washington National airport, with its Boeing 757 aircraft, couldn’t taxi to the gate until flight 847 departed. The boarding gate desk was crowded with unhappy travelers from both flights demanding information, monetary damages, and consideration that United personnel had little, or no, intention of providing.
Downstairs, the bags for both flights were being dumped together by the baggage handling system. This forced the baggage handlers to look beneath the bar code at the small print stating the airline and flight. Both flights were crowded with travelers either going to Washington for a vacation or returning from a Miami holiday. The sheer number of bags from two full flights overwhelmed the single handler assigned to this baggage station. A quick call for reinforcements produced two assistants who moved quickly to untangle the mountain of luggage and cardboard boxes to one of two large carts.
One of the reinforcements grabbed a new canvas bag, trimmed in leather, and stood to throw the bag onto the cart destined for Washington National. The handler standing next to him picked up a bag destined for Washington Dulles. Like a choreographed ballet, both bags moved to a single point in space at the same time, speed, and trajectory. The luggage tag from one bag became intertwined in the shirt cuff of the other handler. The two men were now locked together as the momentum of their follow through caused them to dance a dance neither expected nor wanted.
The senior handler stared in utter disbelief at these two clowns. “What did they send me, Laurel and Hardy? Get your asses in gear; we’re on deadline.”
Each of the assistants, now thoroughly peeved at the other, quickly rose and threw their bags into different carts.
Flight 847 was ready to board in twenty minutes.
When Ramón regained consciousness, he found himself shackled to a wooden chair in a small room flooding with cold air from a very large air conditioner vent. The cold air pouring out of the vent and down his back caused him to shiver involuntarily. Now thoroughly awake, he remembered the young girl and the bag and he quietly cursed.
Opposite of Ramón was a mirror much wider than tall. Ramón quickly realized that this must be a two-way mirror. He was being observed. Ramón hadn’t become what he was by sitting back and letting other people stare at him. In Panama, he was on the other side of the glass watching and waiting.
During his survival training in the US, he’d been taught to appear passive and cooperative. Then, when he saw the opportunity, he was to act. Sit, and you may die. Fight, and you may live. This lesson meshed with his character. Ramón was an impetuous person given to violent and brazen acts that always caught his opposition off guard. One did not prosper in Panama’s Internal Security Group, let alone survive, acting like a gentleman.
Ramón looked at the mirror and screamed as long as he could. Still screaming, he stood, his arms still shackled to the wooden arms of the chair. He moved quickly in the direction of the two-way mirror.
On the other side of the glass, the young ticket agent, only barely calm from her attack, was recounting the events that brought her to this room. The security agent, his back to the mirror, was nodding in agreement as he recorded the young girl’s statement. Standing as he was, the man blocked the girl’s view of Ramón.
“Miss, you’ll have to speak more forcefully so the tape recorder can get everything you say.” The security agent encouraged the shaken ticket agent to continue. The room carried the faint smell of the urine and feces staining her uniform, and she had not sufficiently recovered from the shock of the attack to recognize her disheveled appearance and foul odor.
“Please think very carefully about what you were doing before—”
Without warning, Ramón and his chair came crashing through the plate glass. All three of them were pushed against the wall by the force of the collision. One leg of the chair landed on the agent’s neck pinning him to the ground, killing him mid-sentence. The young girl was knocked unconscious.
Ramón, lay on his back with the remains of the chair scattered about the room. No one came rushing in. The sound proofing materials muffled both his scream and the sounds of the collision. It was a moment before he realized he was free of the chair. He located the agent’s keys and unlocked the cuffs that now hung loosely from each wrist.
Ramón probed for the security agent’s pulse as he scanned the carnage. He saw his personal belongings next to the still running tape recorder. He stood looking over the debris as he reclaimed his personal effects-wallet, keys, and pen. In the remaining glass, he inspected his image, carefully smoothed his hair back into place, and shook the wrinkles and fragments from his jacket and pants. Miraculously, neither he nor his clothing were damaged by the stunt, and this realization empowered Ramón as he stared at the putana who was the cause of his trouble. He smiled as he removed the pen from his pocket and grasped it in his palm like a weapon and moved toward the tangled bodies lying amid the shards of glass and splintered wood.
For a moment in time, he was Colonel Norman Ramón of Panama’s Internal Security Group.
Like many airports, Miami International was slowly being transformed from an airport to a shopping mall. Clothiers, confectioners, and upscale restaurants replaced the older, more familiar newsstands and coffee shops.
Ramón entered the Hickey Freeman shop and moved directly to the rack of blazers and sport coats. To the salesman, the small man entering the store represented everything that was wrong with Latin American dress. A flare for bright, loud colors more appropriate for the golf course than the boardroom or club. To his great surprise the customer asked to see a conservative blue blazer with gray wool slacks.
Half an hour later, the salesman was counting the $100 tip Ramón proffered for the instant alterations. Usually, there was a two-day waiting period for all tailoring work, but Ruiz owed the salesman a favor, and the kindly old tailor hemmed the pants on demand. The salesman didn’t share the tip.
After leaving the barbershop, Ramón boldly made his way back to the passenger boarding area. While he had a change of clothing and a new, short haircut, he still had his old ticket. Ramón wondered whether the reservation was canceled as a result of his arrest. Or, in the chaos of the moment, if the airline’s personnel forgot to cancel his ticket. He wasn’t going to be sloppy and take a chance by using the ticket.
As he scanned the passenger waiting area for flight 919, Ramón saw a young man, a teenager actually, being kissed and hugged by what must have been his grandparents. With each passing moment, Ramón’s feral instincts told him the young man was his chance to complete his cloak of anonymity.
As the first boarding call for flight 919 was announced, the boy completed his farewells and moved to the restroom located just south of the gate area. Ramón picked up a discarded copy of USA Today and appeared to be reading as he followed the boy into the restroom.
Walking down the jet way, Ramón glanced at the ticket and his new identity. He was Samuel J. Alston, and he was sitting in coach at the rear of the plane. Shit, Ramón thought to himself. He had to walk away from a first-class ticket to sit in the rear of a crowded plane for the next two and one-half hours. Then he smiled. Yes, this might work out fine after all.
He was forced to move and wait, move a little further and wait again. The pattern continued until he finally reached the back of the plane. Clearly, Alston’s grandparents weren’t worried about their precious grandson’s comfort. When Ramón reached his aisle, he found that he—Sam Alston—was in the middle seat between two very overweight Anglos.
Flight 847 had been airborne for an hour when Carruthers’ ankle finally stopped hurting. At first, he tried to be stoic and pretend the large army duffel bag thrown into the row by his attractive seat mate hadn’t injured him. But it had, and now that they were well under way, Carruthers repositioned his legs so that he could unobtrusively rub his still sore ankle.
The cabin attendant pushed the drink cart up the aisle until it was just past Carruthers’ row. The attendant dourly looked at Carruthers and asked, “And what are we drinking this evening, sir?”
Before Carruthers could answer, the attendant turned away to grab an ice bucket from her end of the cart. She passed it forward to her companion working the other side. When she finally turned back to Carruthers, he responded, “Diet Coke would be fine, please.”
While the attendant was pouring the soft drink, she looked at the woman seated next to him and repeated the question. Carruthers couldn’t hear her answer, but whatever she requested wasn’t near at hand. So, the attendant was forced to bend over the woman to gain access to the side of the cart. The passenger looked up at the attendant’s neck, sniffed briefly, and said, “I love your perfume.”
The attendant, about to give a perfunctory note of thanks, looked twice at the woman and smiled as she said, “I thought it was you. I just love the perfume and your photographs. Why are you going to DC?”
“We’re launching a new fragrance called In Decision. And they thought the seat of government was the perfect background for the photo shoot, a cute play on words. Here, what do you think?” The model sprayed the fragrance into the air and into the rushing stream of cool air from the cabin’s air conditioning system. Immediately, the thick, cloying scent filled the row and Carruthers felt his throat thicken and the desperate need to sneeze. He quickly reached into his pocket for the inhaler.
Christ, thought Carruthers. Not once in Miami did he suffer an attack, and he considered himself fortunate. Yet, just when he thought he’d escaped without incident, a fellow passenger tried to physically disable him by injuring his ankle and then shut down his pulmonary system.
Both the model and the cabin attendant saw Carruthers’ reaction to the fragrance and rushed to offer their concept of assistance. The attendant tried to seize the inhaler from his hands for fear he might pass out and drop it. The model, covered with the fragrance, pinned him against the wall of the jetliner apologizing profusely and offering her help. In the process, she pushed him against the seat handle closest to the window punching him in the ribs.
The last thing Carruthers remembered was the cabin attendant pressing the overhead assistance button.
“So, I answered the ad,” laughed the heavy-set man to Ramón’s left. “And I got the franchise for the south Miami area. Now, all of the pay phones in the corner grocery stores are mine, and I don’t mind saying that things look pretty good.”
For the last hour, the obese gringo shared his life’s story and good fortune with Ramón. Ramón found the man offensive and wanted badly to get away from him. Extricating himself from his middle seat, Ramón moved to an empty lavatory, locked the door, and sat on the toilet seat. He was resolute in his determination to spend the remainder of the flight in the restroom rather than return to that seat and that man.