Where We're Headed - Where We’re Headed

Where We're Headed
Jim Carnicelli
4/20/2021   |   8/19/2021   |   7/12/2024   |   6,183

6,183 words
FNASR offered
Kira Carnicelli

Where We're Headed

by Kira Carnicelli

4/20/2021    8/19/21    6,183    27:28
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Bernard O'Connell loved his job. Thirty years as an airport security guard. He started in Wisconsin where he grew up, then transferred to Georgia. Not his idea, his wife’s – ex-wife now – but he stayed. And it’d been for the best.

He stood straight in his uniform, arms crossed over his big chest and stomach. He never tanned and wasn’t outside enough to burn. Although you couldn’t see his muscles anymore, he was a foreboding presence. He watched as the detector alerted him to extra mass in the neck of the man before him.

“All right, sir, step on down,” Bernard instructed. The slender young man in tight jeans, a flannel shirt, and long, wild black hair came forward with a bewildered expression. He looked like a college kid from the sixties with that hair. “Come with me.” Bernard looked to the young lady waiting her turn for the x-ray. “Wait here a moment,” he commanded her. She stared back, apprehensive.

Bernard led the young hippie to the checking room. It was dark, even with the dim light switched on. Because of its spaciousness, the door latch always sounded like a slam. Bernard made sure, each time, to shut it a little louder than necessary. Although some experts disagreed with him, he believed it helped weed out trouble makers. Any little reminder of his authority put troublemakers in their places. Or gave him a chance to exact justice.

“Strip,” he snapped.

The young man kept his eyes on the floor as he removed his shirt, then undershirt, pants, and socks.

“Undies, too.”

The young man trembled as he obeyed.

Bernard began the list of instructions for examination. “Arms spread, fingers apart. Turn ’round. Back to me. Bend over. Touch your ankles.”

He approached. The young man saw and began to straighten up. “I said bend down!”

The “guest”, as airport staff were supposed to call them, slumped back down. He tensed. Bernard used one gloved hand to spread the man’s buttcheeks and the first two fingers of his second to perform a cavity search. He figured this young guy had never had anything up there before.

When it was over, he said, “You’re good. Dress and exit through that door.” He stayed to watch the young man dress and exit, looking violated as all hell. Bernard went back to the scanner to continue with the woman.

The air bombing of 2019 introduced a lot of changes to Bernard’s work. It used to be so precursory. So simple. But he preferred it this way. More thorough. Safer. And it reduced the number of flyers by almost 40%. In many ways, he thanked God that he chose to go into airport security. This way, at least one good thing came out of that incident. It would never repair the damages or replace the lives that were lost, but at least he had some solace knowing he played a role in preventing it from happening again.

As his last shift of the week came to an end, he faced one of his final checks for the day. A black man, maybe a similar age to the hippie. He was dressed casually but well in form fitting grey jeans and a long sleeved t-shirt. No belt, no clothes baggy enough to upset the system. He shaved his head and sported a neat black moustache and goatee. Like most guests, he looked nervous. Underneath that nervousness was a face untouched by anger and resentment. Although no security guard was technically supposed to judge someone based on his or her looks, Bernard did it all the time. He assumed his coworkers did, too. He was just too smart to ask.

The black man went through the x-ray scan smoothly. No suspicious areas detected.

“Come on through.” Bernard beckoned him. “Step here in front of me. Legs spread, arms to the side.”

“What’d it find?” the guest asked, complying.

“Your crotch,” he replied, scanning the man’s arms and torso with his freshly gloved hands. “Could be your pants are too low. You got any metal or piercings down there?”

“No sir, you kidding me? Talk about painful.” He chuckled, though it sounded forced.

Bernard patted down the man’s legs, crotch, and butt. He felt the man tense and heard his intake of breath. “All right, this way.” He led him to the checking room and slammed the door hard enough the man flinched. “Strip,” he shouted. It was unnecessary, but he loved how the man jolted.

There was a crack in the young man’s voice as he asked, “All of it?”

“Gotta make sure there’s no metal down there.” He found it funny how often people needed to be reminded, even after two years, that yes: they were indeed expected to remove all articles of clothing.

Once the young man was naked, Bernard barked the usual list of commands. But this time, before the cavity search, he instructed the guest to stand straight, facing him. He stepped in close and leaned down enough to get a good look at the man’s cock. He stared a moment.

“Everything all right?” the guest asked. Until now, he’d complied with no questions, except the confirmation about stripping.

“Just checking. No metal. Guess you don’t have much to work with anyway, huh?”

The man stepped back, turning away slightly. “Look, is there anyone else who can do this, sir?”

“I’m all you got today, buddy,” he said dryly. “Next’s the cavity search. Turn around and bend over.” Technically, the suggested script for guests was something like, “touch your toes” instead of “bend over”. But surely the lines were negotiable.  

The man tensed and uttered a dark, anxious chuckle. “Hey, I’m really uncomfortable with this. I don’t let men go up in there, as a principle. I need somebody else to do it. Please.”

Bernard stared him down, letting a sneer form on his face. “You a perv or something?”

“No, man. I just need somebody else to do it.”

“A woman?”

“Yeah. Look, if you need to know ...” He sighed. “I was assaulted. Nine months ago. I just can’t do it this way.”

“If you don’t cooperate,” Bernard said in a lowered, menacing hiss, “you don’t fly.”

He trembled. Even his voice. He was holding back tears. “I – I got to make this flight. My mom’s paying for me to come home and get some help.” He folded his hands and brought his knuckles to his lips, curling them in as if to hide the way they quivered.

Bernard shrugged. “Up to you whether you go or not.”

The young man submitted to the exam. It wasn’t gentle. In fact, Bernard plunged his fingers with more force than on most other guests and probed harder for longer.

When it was over, tears streamed down the young man’s face. “There’s an hour before my flight. Who’s your manager? I want to talk to them.”

“You’re looking at him.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Tough luck. You can exit out the door you came in if you want to test that theory. But you have to go through me again to catch your flight.”

He made an exasperated gesture with his hands. “This can’t be legal!”

Bernard crossed his arms and gave the guy a smug scowl. “I got a whole line of people waiting their turn. Which door you going through?”

“Fuck you!” The man turned to leave through the exit door. Bernard strode up behind him and shoved him to the ground. Once the man was down, Bernard gave a swift kick between his legs. Probably not hard enough to do real damage, but definitely enough to hurt.

The man just crawled the rest of the way and used the door handle to drag himself up and out, stifling his groans of pain. Bernard returned to his post, where on the tiny screen visible only from where he stood, the young man’s photo and information still showed. Martin Jacobson. He scoffed. Martin. After 2019, no one like him had the right to that name.

As for the threat of talking to Bernard’s boss, that was a real laugh. People complained to guest relations and security supervisors all the time. Thing was, you couldn’t always tell which complaints were legit and which ones were just “because we don’t like the system”. Safety was everyone’s priority, so that’s what the higher ups emphasized. Bernard took this seriously and had received some warnings from his bosses to cool down. But nothing ever came of it. They didn’t really care. As long as he did his job and they never had another 9/11 or 2019, his job was secure.

Thursday – the beginning of his week. He couldn’t stand time off anymore. Any time that forced him to think, he avoided. After 2019, he put in for overtime. The bereavement leave might have helped for a while, but after a point, time to yourself doesn’t do any good.

Of course, the more he did think about it, the more fake that excuse sounded. Bernard just loved his job. More now than ever. It was fuck ups like that Jacobson kid who reminded him why he did it in the first place.

Now, they gave him Wednesdays off because that day was generally a quieter one for travelers. Tuesdays and Thursdays, too. So he hated coming back on Thursdays. He’d rather take Thursdays off and come back on Friday – a statistically busier day. Probably no one believed him when he said he didn’t need to ease into his week. (What kind of guard would he be if he couldn’t adapt quickly?) At least they knew they needed him on the busy days.

Back in the day, assuming the same number of people as today travelled by plane, he’d have a lot of free time on his hands. They’d move through the line quickly. Maybe one person here and a small group there, between minutes of waiting in silence, maybe chatting with his coworkers. Back in the day, with over double the flyers, you almost never had a quiet moment. Now the only reason you didn’t was because of the checking rooms. Each check took time. If you were like Bernard, it’d take more time. The line of flyers would grow as they waited. He could get away with taking a moment for small talk if he wanted; the flyers would mind, but not his bosses. They weren’t watching him. They weren’t even on site; not to mention too busy with whatever else they did. Bernard didn’t care. He was one of the best, most dedicated guards they had. They needed him. Who cared about a few pissed off, entitled flyers?

 Today, they were bound to be even more on edge. He heard on the drive over, on the radio, about the crash last night. One plane, full of passengers, didn’t make it during take-off. Take-off happened so quickly. Within minutes, a mistake or technical failure could be lethal. And it did indeed go down, all dead-weight, almost a thousand feet in the air. The plane wasn’t examined before the flight. In fact, it just came out that no plane had been checked in quite a few months. That didn’t surprise him much. Many people – especially people in the business – believed air travel would die out in less than a decade. Two years in and air travel was already nearly half dead.

He knew from the timing that it wasn’t Martin’s flight. Martin had taken off around the time Bernard’s shift ended, a good several hours before the crash. Would have served him right. But if he wanted to, he could check the numbers. See who’d been on that plane. See their information. Know how many men like Martin had died. If there was even one, it would give him a fleeting satisfaction. They were the cause of it, anyway.

He nodded to the night guard whose shift was finishing. The man – Frank, his name was – nodded once and murmured some pleasantry in departing.

A young couple were first in line. Both were tan, blond, and dressed in denim shorts and sleeveless shirts. If Bernard didn’t know any better, he’d think they were teenagers. But minors were not allowed to travel alone. These kids must be in their early twenties. Both tan, so probably southerners visiting home, travelling back to work or college. They were pretty. They spoke softly to each other. The girl tilted her head to smile up at the boy. Something about her smile caught Bernard’s attention. He didn’t see many people smile in the airport anymore.

“Step up, sir,” he commanded. The young blond guy stepped forward onto the x-ray scanner promptly, without thought. Good. They saw him as an authority figure, and the young man responded appropriately.  

The girl, on the other hand ... Bernard noticed the surprise on her face. Surprise, perhaps, that he’d called specifically for her boyfriend, who’d been standing behind her, holding her against him. There’d been no obvious reason to call him first. The boyfriend seemed a touch puzzled but not too concerned. He’d stood with his arms around her. Her hand rested on his forearm and tightened at Bernard’s instruction. But her boyfriend easily slipped away. He might not have noticed her nervousness.

Bernard carried out the routine. He didn’t give the boy a hard time. He didn’t slam the door. He didn’t raise his voice but directed him respectfully. For the cavity check, he simply requested the boy bend and spread his cheeks. No probing.

“You’re clear. You can dress and exit out the side door.” As the boy dressed, Bernard asked, “This your first time flying, son?”

“No, sir,” he replied, buttoning his shorts and reaching for his shirt. He seemed relatively untroubled by the search. “I grew up traveling with my family. It’s Sophie’s first time, though. She’s a bit nervous, but I told her it’d be fine.”

Bernard smiled. “Where you two headed?”

“Back to work. Just came out to see our families. Now we want to save up some before the semester starts again.”

“Noble. I wish you the best of luck. Safe travels to you both.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Bernard waited for the young man to leave before going out to call Sophie. She didn’t look so calm and content now. “Step forward!”

Her search wasn’t so easy. He was as aggressive with her as he was with Martin, but for a slightly different reason. Both needed to be put in their place, but with her, Bernard enjoyed himself much more. She had a beautiful body. She offered only minimal resistance in the form of questions.

“How do you handle people who were abused and can’t stomach this process?” she asked. Sophie had a pleasantly high voice with a slight southern accent. She didn’t sound apprehensive or disgusted on the surface. Mostly curious, in a casual way. You had to know what to listen for. But if you did – and Bernard knew this well – you’d hear the undercurrent of protest. The girl just knew better than to voice it. “If I were to ask for a woman to do this, is that possible?”

“We do our best to accommodate,” he replied. Then, raising his voice, he snapped, “Turn with your back to me!” He enjoyed the little flinch she did each time he commanded her. With her arms spread to the side, as ordered, she turned her back to him. “Any sore spots?”

“Under my left kidney. It’s a sports injury. You might still see the bruise.”

He took a step closer and leaned in, noting the small, yellowing bruise. The motion she made in response was almost unnoticeable. But it was instinctual. She felt him get close and didn’t like it. He didn’t have to be a mind reader to know that. “This may hurt a little.” With gloved hands, he gripped down her naked arms, shoulders, neck, back, and butt. He squeezed with each grab, appreciating her body. He searched countless women every day. Most were older and not as attractive as Sophie. Many were not the perfect combination of blonde and tan like she was. Or fit. Bernard always had a thing for blondes. Maybe because of the similarities. They say people are attracted to those that look like them. But Bernard was fair. And it didn’t matter that he was no longer fit. One never lost the appreciation for that.

Sophie gasped as his fingers dug into her bruise. “Ow!” It was just a small sound escaping her lungs.

He ignored her. When he finished, he patted her hips in a way no one would call professional. “Almost done. Bend down.”

She complied. Bernard took every opportunity to use his hands, using one to grip her hip and the other to slowly prepare for the search.

“This is standard practice?” she asked, a tremble in her voice.

“Yep.” Before inserting his finger, he paused to stroke down her thighs, not caring whether it seemed legit or not. There were no cameras in here. No cameras on him, or her. And she wouldn’t tell anyone. Not after all she’d let him do. And who would believe her, anyway? Especially when her boyfriend had great rapport with Bernard. Who would he believe, between the nice security guard and the hysterical female?

“What about children?” she asked.

“What?” he snapped, pausing with his finger nearly inside her.

“You do this to children?”

“I told you, standard practice.” He began to press in.

“Wait!” She stood up and turned around. “I can’t do this. I’m sorry. It’s too invasive.”

He glared at her. “Young lady, this is standard procedure. I can’t let you fly if you refuse any part of the physical check.”

“Can Todd be here, at least?”

“Is that who you were with?”

“Yes, my boyfriend.”

“That’s against the law.”

“Are you joking? You would separate married couples? And children from their parents? Does everyone really stand for that?”

“If they don’t, then they don’t fly.” Bernard felt his smug smile falling back into place. “What’s it gonna be, miss? Is your boyfriend flying home without you?”

Sophie glared. “This is harassment! If the government is so insistent on violating people’s privacy, then can you at least get me a female guard?”

“I’m all you got right now, sweetheart. So what’s your decision?”

“I thought you said you accommodate?”

“I said we do our best. Sometimes we gotta work with what we have.”

“Will you check, then, and see if a woman’s available?”

He shrugged. “I can check. You’re only holding up yourself and the rest of the line. Wait here.” He walked out, shutting and locking the door behind him.

Bernard didn’t go back to the security line. He went through the exit door, which led him to the terminals, where Todd stood waiting for his girlfriend. “Todd!” He grinned and waved to the young man.

“Yes sir?” Todd jogged to him with a worried expression. “Where’s Sophie?”

“You know, that’s quite an intense exam for a woman to go through – especially from a man. We’re just waiting on a female guard.”

Todd nodded, still looking concerned. “How long will that be? Our flight’s taking off in a half hour. We got to board in a few minutes.”

“Not long. You could even get on the plane now – your girlfriend will be right behind you.”

Todd didn’t look happy. “Nah, I’d better wait for her. How’s she doing? Can I be with her?”

Bernard patted his shoulder. “I wish I could let you, but it’s against regulation. Silly rule, if you ask me. She’s doing fine, for her first time flying. Anyone’d be a little nervous, don’t you think?”

“Yeah. She’s pretty strong, but it took a lot of convincing for her to agree to fly. Before this trip, she’d only drive. We rode down with a friend who was coming home, too, but I just didn’t want to drive all the way between here and Wisconsin twice. That’s a day of my life I’ll never get back.” He said it with a tight laugh.

Bernard smiled. “I hear you. I drove from Wisconsin with my wife, too. You sit tight. Don’t worry about Sophie none. She’s doing okay. Oh, hey!” He called past Todd to another guard strolling the terminal.

The guard – Bernard didn’t know his name – glanced up at him. Bernard jogged over and put a hand on his shoulder. He seemed to be maybe in his forties with sleepy eyes, a scruffy face, and a name tag that said ‘John’.

“See that young fella over there? Blond hair, super tan? Well, he’s gotta get on a plane ASAP. He’s putting up resistance. If you can, get somebody to help you out and get him where he needs to be.”

“All right,” John murmured.

“Thanks.” That was it. No questions, no evidence. He went back to the checking room where Sophie waited, nodding to Todd as he passed. He hesitated for just a moment before going in to make sure John did as he was told. He saw John approach Todd; saw Todd motion towards Bernard without actually looking at him, and John’s hand on Todd’s arm. He turned his back on the two as Todd’s voice rose in panicked protest.

In some ways, Bernard used to lament the decrease in personal integrity in his field. It used to be you needed a damned good reason to interfere with a guest like this. Now he just gave the order and it happened, no questions asked.

In the checking room, Sophie had put her clothes back on.

“Undress immediately, miss,” he commanded. “Policy demands we re-check anyone who deviates from standard procedure.”

She didn’t move. “Where’s the female guard?”

“I told you, there’s none available. Now I’m sorry, but you’re gonna have to make due with me. All you had to do was let me put my finger in there for a second, but now we gotta do it all over again. Undress please.”

“I’m sorry, I just can’t. It feels too wrong.”

“If we gave a pass to everyone who said that, nobody’d go through.”

“How necessary is this? How many terrorists have you stopped since 2019?”

“Miss, your flight leaves in less than a half hour. You’re due to board it now. The only one stopping you from doing that is you.”

“You locked the doors. This isn’t right. You can’t –”

“Because you’re refusing to comply, you are an implied threat. This is your last warning before I’m required to deploy the use of force.”

Sophie gaped at him. Then she screamed, “Todd! Somebody, help!”

Bernard unhooked his Taser from his belt and approached her. She attempted to run, but he caught her easily. She dropped to the floor as she seized. When he took the weapon off her, she spouted curses. They did that sometimes.

He knelt with one knee on her back. “Now, you move, and you get it again.” He removed her clothing. Sophie cried but didn’t physically fight.

“This isn’t legal. You can’t pretend it is,” she said through her tears.

“It’s only as bad as you make it.” He took the opportunity while she was down to insert two fingers into her. She cried out in pain and sobbed. “Now, this could have been easy, but because you’re a potential threat, we gotta be thorough. It wasn’t this hard for Todd, I can tell you that.”

He managed to fit three fingers in her cavity and search aggressively for several seconds. When he finished, his gloved fingers were bloody. He gave her a firm pat – more of a slap – and stood up. She’d gone still and quiet but for some sniffles. “There. That wasn’t so bad now.” He walked away and removed the gloves. “You can get dressed and exit through the exit door.”

He watched as she dressed and escaped, still in tears. Before parting, she said, “You’ll burn in Hell for this.”

Bernard waited a moment before stepping through the same door and radioing John.

“John here,” came the apathetic response.

“That young guy get on his plane all right?”

“Yeah. Took four of us to get him, but it’s done. Plane departed and everything.”

“Excellent. Thanks.” He imagined Sophie’s panic; he pictured her rushing to collect her baggage and then to the terminal, only to find her Todd and her plane gone. It was too bad he wouldn’t be able to watch in person, but he would masturbate to the fantasy tonight. Work was the only fun he had anymore.

Less than a week later, he was called in early for a meeting with his boss and one of the head honchos from regional management. He was informed that this meeting would be led by the lead representative of airport security – a figure responsible for the operation of airports throughout the state. A big deal. Most people would be scared. Or maybe a little excited. If they, like he, put in large amounts of overtime every week for as long as he had, they could well expect to get a promotion. A raise. Or just a fucking commendation.

Bernard arrived promptly at 8am and reported to his boss’s office. Rick – Nick? It didn’t matter – was an easy going guy much like Bernard. They only really interacted on Bernard’s first day working in Georgia and the few times he was brought in for “disciplinary actions”, which amounted to not even a slap on the wrist. Part of it was that everyone felt sorry for him, including Rick/Nick. Part of it was ... they had no proof of the flyers’ complaints and little care. As long as another 2019 bombing never happened, he and other security could do no wrong. They were heroes.

Bernard strutted in, shoulders back, head tall, wearing his most charming smile. Eager to meet the man in charge.

She sat tall and confident in his boss’s chair. She was younger than Bernard – late thirties or early forties. Her black hair was tied in a tight bun, showing off her smooth, cocoa skin. Her face was angular, her shape slender, which her business suit accentuated, giving her narrow shoulders a sharpness to them. She wasn’t smiling.

His on-site manager was nowhere to be seen.

“Mr. O’Connell,” she greeted.

“Yeah.” His voice automatically reverted from the down-to-earth southerner persona he adopted to the gruff security guard.

“I’m Elizabeth Groft, Lead Representative for American Airlines. Have a seat.” He did. She rested her elbows on the desk and leaned forward a little. “Mr. O’Connell, do you know why I’ve called this meeting with you today?”

“No I do not.”

“There have been a number of complaints about guest treatment in the checking rooms. Those complaints have come from people you’ve checked and go back two years. It seems you’ve had repeated measures of disciplinary actions taken, and yet these complaints are becoming ... more and more common.” She paused to stare at him expectantly, with a dark, concerned look in her eyes that challenged him to explain himself.

He felt his own stare grow hard. Felt his jaw tighten in that way that his old friends said made him look like he wanted to kill someone. He responded, “Many of our flyers have displayed resistance to the increased security measures. They say it’s unAmerican and violates their right to privacy. I’m not, nor have I ever been, surprised that there are complaints.”

Elizabeth lowered her chin and scrutinized him from under her thick, black lashes. Her stare burned, which pissed him off. “What if I told you the complaints are almost exclusively about you?”

He scoffed. “Then I’d have to wonder what I’m doing differently that others aren’t.”

Elizabeth breathed in deeply but suppressed her sigh. “I saw the videos, Bernard.”

He frowned – no, he glared. Hard. “What?” Most people recoiled from that tone as if slapped. Elizabeth did not.

“We view all the footage from inside the checking rooms. We’ve seen countless cases of what appears to be unnecessary force and invasiveness on guests. Not to mention sexual misconduct.” She paused a moment, lowering her eyes to the desk with her fingers to her temples. “I’m sorry, sexual assault. I saw what you did to Sophie Meyer last week. Does that name sound familiar to you?”

“I remember her. First time flying. With her boyfriend Todd. She refused to submit to the cavity search. Was pretty shook up about it.”

“And what was your treatment of her?”

He shrugged. “Same as anyone else. I explained the procedure in a professional manner, explained the options to her; and when I was unable to find a female to perform the search, I did my best to alleviate her fears, allowing her the time to collect herself and voluntarily submit to the required physical searches before continuing on to her flight.”

Elizabeth’s burning gaze never let up. It would cut deep into those with thinner skin than Bernard. “From what we saw on the video, you engaged in sexual harassment by performing an unprofessional, unneeded pat down on an unclothed woman. You fondled her. You used excessive, unnecessary force with a Taser. And your body, by pinning her down when she was not posing any threat to you.” Her voice gradually rose as she continued. “The cavity search was done under duress, again with the use of excessive force. There was blood on your glove after that search, Bernard. The girl was in tears. And you didn’t stop?” Elizabeth paused again, this time taking a visible deep breath. “Not to mention you had her boyfriend forced onto a plane without any documentation of why this was necessary. Are you aware that this is not only a violation of your duties but also the law?”

A brief pause. Bernard said nothing. Elizabeth snapped, “Are you?”

He sighed. “Ms. Groft, I’m not sure how to respond to these accusations. I don’t think you realize the gravity of your mistake. I am the most high-ranking security guard in this airport. I’d bet even in the whole country. Do you know how many hours I put in each week? Or that I’ve outlasted anyone who’s worked here in ten years?”

“This isn’t a mistake. The footage is undeniable. It was in your station. It was you on the film. The individuals who filed their complaints are the ones in the videos. My only question is why you would do these things? And why has nobody stopped you until now?”

She stared him down, waiting. He felt his face turn red with anger. He stood up and turned towards the door. “This is ridiculous. You’re attacking me with false accusations and false proof! This is illegal, Ms. Groft. I know damned well there are no cameras in those rooms. Individual privacy – ha! Flyers can say anything, but the only ones to see them naked and ashamed are us guards who have to do the dirty work. Isn’t that why you hired us, to stop psychos like that 2019 guy?”

“Mr. O’Connell –”

“Where is my manager? He knows me. He knows I would never do the things you’re accusing me of.”

“Michael won’t be coming back. This is your last day with us, as well. In light of the events brought to our attention, we have to let you go from Georgia’s Regional Airport. As of today, we ask that you return any and all equipment given to you by the airport.”

Bernard stood there, silently boiling.

She let him stew, then repeated, “I’ll be taking those from you now.”

He felt one shaking fist slide towards his gun. If he said she attacked him, he wouldn’t be wrong. Everyone would believe him. He’d keep his job.

“Drop that gun, now,” she ordered.

The door opened and two guards he didn’t know came in. He hadn’t actually grabbed his gun, but his fingertips touched it.

They watched him remove his belt before escorting him out. They watched him get in his car and drive away.

He felt naked. The weight of his weapons was gone. His station was being manned by someone else. He didn’t know who, but he’d bet anything they weren’t equipped to do his job. He doubted most of the employees were as dedicated as him. In his mind, he was the only one standing between the country and another bomber. Like the one who took his son.

Once more, Bernard’s fists trembled with rage as he squeezed the wheel in a death grip. He should never have let it happen. But his bitch of an ex insisted, so he let his little boy go to the airport with her hippie parents.

If not for the slack rules already in place, he would have gone to the gate with the kid, like they could before 9/11. He would have been blown up, too.

But he wasn’t. And his boy was.

So were the fucking in-laws. But how could he care when his son was gone? How could he have any sympathy when they insisted on it? If they just hadn’t, or she’d said no, or Bernard had fought harder ... He’d do anything to have Martin back.

And to make things worse, nobody but him even cared. On the news, on the streets, everywhere he went, he heard the bomber’s name. He’d gotten so sick of it he wouldn’t even repeat it in his head. And yet that’s all anyone would talk about. When they should have been talking about the victims. The people who deserved to be talked about.

But that thinking bit him in the ass. People would be talking up those hippies like they were saints. But what kind of saint leads a little boy to his death? Fuck if they didn’t know it was coming. No one did. But if they’d listened to Bernard, this wouldn’t have happened. His wife didn’t even get that. She couldn’t stand that he didn’t care her parents were gone. And he couldn’t stand that she had any good feelings left for her baby’s murderers. In the end, they couldn’t stand each other.

Moments after he’d pulled into his driveway and entered his home, the police car pulled up. He hesitated before going out to them. If he had his gun ...

No. No, that was no answer. He wouldn’t take the coward’s way out. And he wouldn’t shoot armed officers, either. That’d do him no good.

So there was no getting out of this. He saw them at the door outside his window, banging on it, calling for him to open up.

He wanted to tell himself, They’ll understand eventually. But no. The whole world was against him now. He pictured himself stripping in front of other men, to be searched and then forced into one of those orange jumpsuits. Of being barked at, insulted, degraded. There’s no escaping those things in jail. Or would it be prison? He didn’t keep up with that stuff.

But he was about to find out.