The scene is in black and white. A man sits to one side of the courtroom. He is dressed in a tailored gray suit, and his gold watch glints from the light in the room. On the other side, a young woman sits. She’s not listening closely, but she hears the words spiraling through the air like a whip. The crack echoes in every ear in the room.
Not guilty. The words snake around the room, on the floor, up the wall, coating the ceiling. Not guilty. A thousand dead voices whisper it in hoarse tones. Not guilty. It curls and twists like a dragon, and then it pours into the room, infecting the air like smoke. She gasps. It enters her lungs, replacing her air. She coughs and gasps again. There is no air. The smoke burns as she swallows, hot and fiery like a branding iron. Not guilty, on two accounts of manslaughter.
She jerked awake. Her head hit the top of the cab, and she breathed hard in short gasps.
“Miss, are you alright?” the driver asked. His hand rested on her shoulder. He has just awoken her. She stares down at her hands, currently curled in her lap, and then peered up at him and nodded.
“We’re here,” he says.
She looked past his shoulder as he straightened up and pulled away from the open door of the cab. The sun was low in the California sky, a pastel painting backdrop. The mild rainbow of colors did nothing to help the intimidating sight of the huge glass and white-sided building in front of her. Behind and slightly to the left, letters spelling out LAX illuminated the early evening sky brightly.
She looked down as the cab driver set a rolling bag on the pavement. She clutched the now extended handle.
“Thanks,” she murmured quietly to him. The falling dusk muted the hustle and bustle of the busy street around them, and she kept her eyes trained on the ground.
“You’re welcome. Safe travels, miss.” His black shoes tapped faintly around to the drivers side of the cab.
The young woman entered the airport and glanced around. Businessmen walked importantly to their destinations. Mothers berated their children to hurry along. The tan speckled tiles covering the floor crowded with feet and luggage. She let the stream of people push her along to her destination, and she tried to keep her focus on the next task. Security check.
She stepped up and joined the line winding through the lanes marked by black ropes. Unlike most of the others around her, she waited patiently. Almost like she would rather avoid security than hurry up and get through it at all. She stood in a sort of transfixed daze, lost in her own thoughts.
The LA airport had brought memories shooting back. The books that lined the shops walls looked achingly familiar to the ones her mother loved read. “Come here my dear,” she would say. “Do you know that word?” She pointed to the yellowing page. The little girl looked up at her mother with wide eyes, and shook her head. “It means beautiful. Which is what you are.” Her mother tenderly tucked a wild strand behind her ear.
She thought she almost saw her little brother’s favorite red shoes. “You look like you just walked out of clown school or something,” she had said to her brother when she first saw them.
“Hey! Don’t hate on the the shoes! They’re just unique.” Despite her raised eyebrow and doubtful look as a reply, he still wore them. What she would give to see him wearing them again, she thought.
“Next,” a woman called loudly. The young woman in line shook her head to clear her thoughts. Her family was gone now. She looked at the woman who had spoken as she stepped forward. The employee was wearing the same blue and black uniform all the airport workers wore. The badge on her right and the tag on her shoulder marked her as a TSA officer. The silver tag on her left read Hernandez. “ID and boarding pass please,” she said.
“Oh, uh, here,” the young woman in line fumbled through her pockets and then pulled out the requested items.
“Alright let’s see, Miss Aleah Wright, headed to New York City.” Hernandez studied the documents for a moment more, and then handed them back. Her curly brown ponytail swished on her uniform when she turned her head. “The Big Apple, how exciting. You’re all set.” Aleah only took the documents back, stuffed them in her pocket, and proceeded through the rest of security.
Now that Aleah was here, she was beginning to rethink what she was doing. Would her family approve of her decision? Aleah doubted it, but she decided it was too late to turn back.
Marty Gable sat in the second row in first class aboard flight B336, headed directly towards New York City. He was traveling alone, and his small rolling suitcase was already stored overhead. He pulled back the cuff of his suit coat, and checked the time on his watch. He then peered over the seat in front of him. He was impatient for the flight to depart. He had no wish to stay in California any longer. When he first landed in LA, he was originally responsible for what Mr. Gable saw as only a small accident. It was a huge nuisance, and his planned two week stay turned into several months.
As a young man, Marty thought that being a businessman would be considerably easy, all relaxing with a large income once he spent a quick few years climbing the ladder. But Marty was young and foolish then, and now he was entering his later years. Although in a more advanced position in the company than when he started, was still traveling left and right across the country like he was picked off the New York City streets yesterday.
So, his impatience distracting him, he took no notice of the young woman that quietly sat in the aisle seat next to him. He didn’t notice when she began removing a small, coffee sweetener sized packet from the front pocket of her bag before leaving it haphazardly in the isle, not bothering to stow it away above. He also didn’t notice when she took one from inside her breast coat pocket, nor when she slipped one out from under the tongue of her right boot or when she didn’t retie it.
He didn’t notice when she ripped open the first packet. It made a small noise, the torn paper and plastic barely audible over the bustle of the still boarding plane. He didn’t notice when she opened the empty bottle in front of her, held between her legs, and expertly tipped the contents into the narrow opening. He didn’t notice when she repeated this action twice more, screwed the cap of the bottle back on, and began to shake it.
He did, however, notice the thundering ka-boom of a loud explosion. The high-pitched scream of the lady behind him. The plume of smoke filling his vision. The bile taste that covered his tongue. The throbbing of his head, and the flow of blood that trickled down, down, down. And then, Marty Gable didn’t feeling anything at all.