Serendipitous (mis)fortune - Editor
Fly the Friendly Slies
by Keith G. Laufenberg
Revenge is profitable, gratitude is expensive.
—Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Ch. 11.
David Thomas stared at the television screen and his eyebrows disappeared into his forehead—in amusement. The picture on the screen was from a surveillance tape, taken by a hidden camera, and showed one of Thomas’ customer service agents pilfering money from the flight cocktail sales. He knew who it was, Raymond ‘Ray-Jay’ Jackson, a thirty-five-year-old agent with fourteen years of service to Big Orange Airlines. Thomas had, at one time in the past, thought that Ray-Jay would be promoted to supervisor before he would, but then Thomas had a bachelor’s degree, something Big Orange’s CEO made mandatory for anyone entering management and Ray-Jay Jackson had only three years of college, although he was attending night school, being only twenty credits shy of getting the sheepskin, and this prompted Thomas to think that Jackson was gunning for his job. Thomas was the only one yet to have viewed the tape and realized that he could handle it any way that he chose to. He strolled to a large window and glanced down at the huge runway at Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport and speculated to himself how foolish Jackson had been, as there had been less than a hundred dollars in cocktail sales that day and it appeared as if Ray-Jay had only taken two bills out of all the funds available.David Thomas removed the tape from the VCR and quickly made his decision—he would show the tape to his boss, that way he could reinforce his decision—which he already knew—and would suggest to his boss, to terminate Raymond James Jackson. He picked up the telephone on his desk and violently stabbed out three numbers. When it was picked up, on the second ring, Thomas’ lip curled upwards cruelly and he snarled, “Mr. Simons how are you sir?”
“I’m fine David, yourself?”
“Fine sir, fine, thank you for being so considerate to ask,” Thomas replied, unabashedly ingratiating himself on Simons.
Stan Simons, vice-president of operations and personnel, who knew of Thomas’ ambitions to move up the ladder of management, sighed and barked, “What can I do for you David?”
“Well sir, I have something here I think you might want to see?”
Opportunity makes a thief.
—Francis Bacon, Letter to the Earl of Essex.
Fate laughs at probabilities.
—Bulwer-Lytton, Eugene Arum. Bk. 1, ch. 10.
Raymond Jackson glanced in the mirror and smiled widely—he was ready to go to work—he was a man who loved his job but also expected to retire in six more years. He had fifty grand in equity in his home and owned a duplex that he leased out and would bring him at least another fifty. He would be forty-one in six years—in January 1990—and he was planning on taking the hundred grand and opening a restaurant, his and his wife’s lifelong dream. He could still collect his twenty year pension as a cushion and if he happened to be promoted to management it would be all the better, as he would have a larger pension and therefore a bigger cushion. Ray-Jay Jackson’s frugality was legendary at Big Orange; he regularly brought bagged lunches to work and drove a Honda motorcycle because it got four times the gas mileage as the average car. Ray-Jay had, embarrassingly, been caught short three days ago, for the first time in many years, having had to drive his wife’s 1981 Chevy to work, as his motorcycle was on the fritz, and he had even forgotten his bagged lunch. He was a proud man and refused to ask anyone for money, he refused to use credit cards, after paying off over five thousand dollars in credit card debt and destroying all his credit cards, and his frugality was widely known by all of Big Orange’s employees. He needed gas in the car and something to eat and saw his chance when he had found himself alone with ninety-five dollars in cocktail sales money, slipping two bills into his pocket. He even had second thoughts about putting one of the bills back when he saw it was a ten-dollar bill but then had kept it and the five when another employee had shown up to take the money from him and he forgot it completely, after all what was fifteen bucks to a huge multi-million-dollar airline, like Big Orange? He walked out of his bathroom and into the living room, where his wife was playing with their seven-year-old son. He tickled his son, than told the boy and his wife that he had to leave for work, fourteen years on the job and never a late day. As he was heading for the door, his wife said, “Ray-Jay, we havin’ meatloaf fo’ dinner—is that all right honey’?”
“Only if I can have you fo’ dessert, baby,” he replied, smiling.
Julie Jackson giggled and threw a pillow at her husband, who then ran over and playfully wrestled her to the ground. His son got into the fray and the trio was laughing heartily when Ray-Jay’s wife rasped, “Well honey its seven o’clock, you better not be late, you’ll break your record.”
Ray-Jay smiled and winked at her, then kissed them both. He hurried for the front door of his twenty-five-hundred-square-foot house, in Rex, Georgia, with the usual bounce in his step. Life was good for Ray-Jay Jackson.
Frank ‘FNG’ Gray smiled tentatively at Bill ‘Bull’ Greer and the three other air traffic controllers in the air traffic control tower of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Gray had been an air traffic controller for less than a month and was the only non-ex-military man in the tower. Bull Greer, an ex-Marine and Vietnam veteran, had hung the name ‘FNG’ on him, a name that had originated in Vietnam and stood for ‘fuckin’ new guy,’ a term that never lasted long in ‘Nam. Gray had eventually, after two weeks of being referred to as ‘FNG,’ been let in on what FNG stood for and he took it good-naturedly with a shrug of his shoulders. Gray was a product of the 1981 air traffic controllers’ strike when President Ronald Reagan broke the PATCO strike by firing approximately twelve-thousand controllers. It had totally ruined more than one of those controllers’ livelihood’s forever, not to mention the impact it had on the already overcrowded skies, having their air traffic flow controlled by so many untested newcomers to the field, many of which, like Frank Gray himself, had no more experience than a four-month course at an FAA approved school in Oklahoma. But, what more could be expected from a President, Ronald Reagan, whose entire adult life had been spent making believe he was someone else. Ronald Regan’s simpatico for the working man could only be felt if he had played one in a movie and his memory was so clouded and overburdened in his presidential days in 1981, that he would have had to be shown the movie he had acted in to have remembered it.
Frank Gray took a seat in front of a radar screen and smiled at Steven ‘Shug’ Sugarino, an ex-green beret, and Shug nodded at him. Gray desperately wanted to be accepted by the ex-military men and had been listening to them and studying their jargon for the past thirty days. He nodded at Bull Greer and barked, “Hey Bull it’s thirteen-hundred hours, about chow-time—ain’t it?”
Sam ‘Salty’ Stevens smiled at Bull Greer; they had worked together for two years and Stevens was an ex-Navy controller. He was usually in ill humor, as he constantly felt tired and stressed out, having to work sixty and seventy-hour weeks. He knew there was more to life than work, he was just having a hard time remembering it, but he liked FNG Gray and wanted him to work out, to come on board permanently, so as to take some of the load off of him and the other more experienced controllers. “Bull, I think F-Nah-Gee’s finally getting’ there; hell, he’ll be one ah us any day now.” Salty Stevens said it with a laugh but, nevertheless, it shot a shiver of pride right down the center of Gray’s back and put a smile on his face.
Ray-Jay walked into Dave Thomas’ office and smiled—he had known Thomas for over a decade, in fact, had broken him in when Thomas had first come on the job. Thomas had gone on to become a low-level manager only a year after joining Big Orange and everyone knew he had been steadily climbing up the promotional ladder ever since, but Ray-Jay wasn’t jealous, as he felt that, with his soon to be earned degree in business, that he would also be joining the management ranks. Thomas waved Ray-Jay to a seat just in front of his desk and a thought filtered through Ray-Jay’s mind that maybe he was being promoted in advance of his yet to be earned degree—after all—who was more loyal to Big Orange than Ray-Jay, with his unblemished attendance record and Spartan living habits. He sat down and smiled. “Hey Dave, what’d you want to see me about?” Dave Thomas sneered at Ray-Jay and handed him a piece of paper that all employees of Big Orange feared; the dreaded pink slip. Ray-Jay’s face almost equaled that of the slip. “Bu’ … but what is this?”
“You know what it is Mister Jackson - it’s your notice of termination.”
“Bu’ … but you can’t do this to me Dave?”
“It’s already been done Mister Jackson!”
“But … but why?”
“I think you can see why, Mister Jackson, it’s right there in black and white at the bottom of your termination slip. You stole money from the company.”
“But, I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about, man?”
“No, man, look, tell me what you’re talking about, will yah?”
“C’mon Jackson, you know we got surveillance cameras in every area of our operation. We have you on tape.” Dave Thomas flicked on his big-screen television and Ray-Jay watched himself, as he pilfered the fifteen bucks from the flight cocktail sales, three days previously.
“Hey man Dave, I was, I was short that day man. C’mon man, I only took fifteen bucks, I’ll, I’ll put it back, I’ll …”
“… I can’t allow that now Jackson—it’s too late—sorry.”
“Man, c’mon Dave. Geez-zuz I only got six more years and I can draw a pension. C’mon, I got a wife and kid, I got bills, I got …”
“You shouldah thought about that BEFORE you stole from us.”
“Man, Dave? Gimme a break man, you know me; hell I broke you in, gimme a break?”
Dave Thomas’s face became a carnivorous mask. “If you don’t mind, sir, I have work to do.”
Ray-Jay’s mouth dropped open in disbelief and Dave Thomas glared at a jittery, fearful man—as Ray-Jay stood up to leave his office—shaken to his very core.
Cynthia McNab sat in the terminal at the Miami International Airport and put her head almost between her legs, as her face turned ashen and she swallowed a mouthful of bile. She had stomach cramps again, something not at all unusual for someone that was eight months pregnant—as she was. She had elegant, sharp features and was dressed in a loose fitting blouse that made it very hard to tell if she was pregnant. She wore a profusion of jewelry and make-up and carried a briefcase that held, among other things, her eight-by-ten glossy photographs that informed the world that she was a model and actress, available for work. She was flying to Atlanta to audition for a part in a movie that was being filmed there by a major production company. She grimaced when she felt the baby kicking again—she hated being pregnant, it was getting in the way of all of her life’s aspirations, feeling that if she didn’t make it by age twenty-five that her chance would go down the toilet, something that the demon had been calling for her to do to the fetus that she carried in her overly-swollen belly. She walked into the ladies room and went into a stall, where she removed her coat. She looked down and saw a drop of blood on the floor and, realizing where it came from immediately, the demon revisited her and the audition call that she had gotten the week before came into her memory bank, her agent making it plain that the part called for a slender, exotic beauty like her, with the emphasis on her being slender. She had fought the urge that the demon planted in her head now, that of her taking her fate into her own hands and removing the baby from her own uterus. She had to fight to put down the urge, but the demon’s pleas were ever incisive and quickly multiplying inside her head. She reached her hand down to where she could feel the baby’s head, which was falling lower and lower into position. She groaned and her eyes rolled towards the ceiling, as the demon called to her, even as the loudspeaker crackled that her flight was scheduled to board in only fifteen minutes, causing her to inhale deeply and reach for her coat.
The day we fashion destiny, our web of fate we spin.
—Whittier, The Crisis. St. 10.
The shortest way out of Manchester is notoriously a bottle of Gordon’s gin.
—William Bolitho, Twelve Against the Gods: Cagliostro (and Seraphina).
Ray-Jay sat down next to his friend, James ‘Bodyguard’ Jones. They were in the employee’s dressing quarters. “Bodyguard, you still got that nine in your locker?”
“Yeah Ray-Jay, sup man,” Bodyguard replied.
“Lemme borrow it, ah-’ight man?”
“Man, Ray-Jay, I could lose my job man, you know I copped it?”
Ray-Jay smiled sickeningly at Bodyguard, a baggage handler for the past two years. Everyone knew he had been stealing from passengers’ suitcases for the past year or so but no one would turn him in, as those that weren’t afraid of him were buying stolen merchandise from him. “Yeah, you lose your job, me and you have sumpin’ in common then Bodyguard.”
Jones stared at Ray-Jay to see if he was serious and quickly determined that he was. “Man, Ray-Jay, you got canned? Shee-it man, you been here fo’evah?”
“Fo’-teen years Bodyguard, fo’-teen years,” he growled.
“Shee-it, who fired you Jay … it wasn’t—”
“He probably fired you cuz you a brother shee-it you need to sue Big Oh-range Ray-Jay?”
“Bodyguard, lemme see the nine, huh?”
Jones glanced around the locker room. They were alone and he went to his locker and opened it, removing the 9-millimeter pistol and handing it to Ray-Jay, who flicked the chamber open and saw it was fully loaded. He clicked it shut. “You got anymo’ ammo Bodyguard … huh …?”
“What? Hail no bro-ah, wait a minute, where you goin’, gimme my piece. Hey Ray, man, Thomas ain’t in ‘is office they goin’ down to Miami fo’ a big party on ah beach man. Hey, hey Ray-Jay, shee-it where you goin’ man, gimme my piece back,” Bodyguard yelled but Ray-Jay was in the wind, the 9mm pistol stuck snugly in his waistband, as he hurried into the terminal.
Gerry ‘Big G’ Reynolds sipped the vodka-tonic and smiled, putting his feet up on his desk and staring out at the runway. He was a flight instructor and had one of his students coming in at three that afternoon, for a lesson. They would be flying a Cessna-152, a small propeller plane, scheduled to depart from Opa-locka Airport at thirty-thirty that afternoon. He swallowed another gulp of the vodka-tonic and stretched his arms overhead. Reynolds had a suspended driver’s license and had to take a taxi to work; having been issued two DUI’s in the past year. He lit a cigarette, just as his student pulled up in a 1983 Corvette and deposited his half-empty vodka-tonic glass in the top drawer of a nearby filing cabinet. He had been flying planes for nearly two decades, having flown helicopters in Vietnam and later for a Miami radio station for almost two years before they were forced to let him go for coming to work once too often stewed to the gills. Big G’s main problem was the nightmares, the nightmares that had followed him home from ‘Nam. He had flown his chopper into a firefight and had pulled back when he drew fire, leaving the remainder of a platoon at the mercy of the NVA. Adding insult to injury, Bobby ‘Fletch’ Fletcher, who had co-piloted for Big G and graduated to pilot after two choppers were downed in a firefight, flew in and landed, getting half the platoon to safety before the remainder of the platoon were overrun. From that day until this one, Big G always wondered if he could have rescued those Marines, Marines just like himself. He would never have the answer to that question but he wished, indeed prayed, every waking day that he had only tried to, for he was certain that the nightmares would then not visit him, if he had only tried, if he had only tried. As it was, his manhood, that of being a Marine, came into question, not from his superiors—or even his comrades—but from one far more critical and far more demanding, his manhood came into question by himself, by his mind and his conscience and it couldn’t let him forget it or get a decent night’s rest for the nearly twenty years since. As the student-pilot came into his office, Big G stood up and smiled. “Say Purvis, all set to get in the air?”
“Sure am Mistah Reynolds, think I’m about able by now too.”
Big G smiled his deceiving smile at Purvis Claude Pershing III and barked, “That you are Pee-Cee, that you are, let’s see if we gotta damn runway available then huh?”
If you set a trap for others, you will get caught in it yourself. If you roll a boulder down on others, it will roll back and crush you
We want far better reasons for having children than not knowing how to prevent them.
—Dora Russell, Hypatia, p. 46.
Susan Falandi smiled at Ray-Jay when he walked onto the DC-9, which was
presently sitting in a holding pattern on the runway, awaiting takeoff. “Oh hi Ray-Jay, you going to Miami too?” she said.
Ray-Jay grinned crookedly and hissed, “Ah-er-um, no-no, I jus’ gotta give Dave Thomas a message. Is he on board?”
“Yes he is Ray-Jay but you’d better hurry, they’re about set to take-off.”
“Oh really, to Miami huh?” he said.
“Yeah, then to the Bahamas, a management party, you know how they get all the perks.”
“Yeah, yeah I know Sue—see yah latah.”
“Sure thing Ray, nice to see you again,” she replied, smiling.
Ray-Jay hurried onto the plane and then down the aisle-way, pushing on the pistol, stuffed into his waistband, as he went. He walked by the bathroom compartments on the plane, than quickly ducked into one. He pulled the 9-millimeter out and stared at it. He had his hand on the bathroom door when the loudspeaker blasted out for everyone to take their seats, as the flight was departing in ten minutes. Ray-Jay made sure that the door was unlocked as the stewardesses routinely checked them to make sure they weren’t occupied before a take-off. He glanced at the slab of metal that was riveted onto the wall and served as a bathroom mirror and pondered silently what he was doing, as the right side of his mind told him he was making a big mistake, but then the demon whispered into his inner-ear that vengeance was his to take, he was the master of his own destiny and Dave Thomas had stolen his future from him. As the plane began taxiing down the runway, the demon took control of Ray-Jay’s senses and he stroked the pistol and gripped it lovingly.
Cynthia McNab staggered into the bathroom of the big 747 and locked the door. She collapsed onto the toilet seat and emitted a growl from her throat, as the demon took complete possession of her mind—she was such an easy prey for him, her pride, vanity and greedy ambition something he was eternally familiar with, considering they originally belonged to him. She groaned and slipped her hands between her legs and onto the infant’s skullcap. She grasped it firmly and pulled it violently from her body. The child was still-born, a little girl, weighing less than five pounds, but struggling to get air into her lungs and beginning to scream. Cynthia McNab’s demon, now in complete control of her mind, body and soul took possession of her actions and she shoved the tiny human being into the toilet bowl. She collapsed onto the floor and only awoke when the loudspeaker blasted out a warning for all passengers to take their seats, as the plane was due to lift off anytime now. The plane was taxiing down the runway and within seconds of lift-off when a stewardess noticed that one of the bathroom doors was in the locked position. Passengers were not allowed to unfasten their seatbelts for any reason, or use the bathrooms, on takeoff, and she hurriedly walked over and turned the bathroom’s doorknob. When it failed to open, she barked, “Whoever is inside—will you please open the door and come out—you are not allowed inside the bathrooms at the time of takeoff.”
Another stewardess joined her and repeated the warning, causing Cynthia McNab to swallow a mouthful of bile and stagger to the door. She felt nauseous but managed to hiss, “Ah-um, I’ll be right out.” She shoved a handful of paper-towels over the small half-flushed body and then a half of a roll of toilet paper down her now bloodied panties. After the two stewardesses threatened to open the door themselves, McNab staggered out and mumbled that she was suffering from air-sickness. When one of the stewardesses asked her if she’d like a drink and she replied in the affirmative, she was shown to her seat and one of the stewardesses went to fetch the drink, while the other went to check the bathroom. Just as Cynthia McNab was sipping on a cold glass of water, two stewardesses were staring down at the now deformed body of what had once been a small human being.
A PLANE WITH NO PILOT
Revenge proves its own executioner.
—John Ford, The Broken Heart. Act v, sc. 2.
Ray-Jay held the pistol to Dave Thomas’ head and scowled at the pilot and the others in the pilot’s cabin, where he had found them toasting the coming festivities. His lips turned upwards in a sneer and he hissed, “You’re a dead man Dave, a dead man.”
“Please Raymond, give me a break? I’ll hire you back man. I, I made a mistake.”
“Yeah I’m ready to believe you NOW, huh Dave. I’m a dope, huh?”
“Mister Jackson, I think you …”
Ray-Jay backhanded the speaker, the pilot, with the 9-millimeter and the plane took a nosedive, even as Ray-Jay smiled triumphantly and hissed, “Now, hah, now we all goin’ to hell together huh?”
As the pilot struggled back to consciousness and turned the wheel upwards, the cockpit soon became occupied by as many supervisors as could get into it and one barked, “Hey Ray-Jay, brother, sup?”
Ray-jay stared at the speaker, Bobby ‘Ice’ Johnson, the only African-American supervisor on the plane and growled, “Jus’ cause you black don’t make you MY brother Ice, got it?”
“Yeah-ah, Jay—hey, hey why’nt you put the pistol down brother—we kin work this out.”
Ray-Jay leveled the nine at Ice Johnson and smiled thinly, as the sledgehammers of pain inside his cranium kept the demon whispering to him that it was payback time and now or never. Suddenly—inexplicably and unexpectedly—he grabbed Ice Johnson and pushed him to the floor, where he shoved the 9-millimeter into his mouth. “Whose brothah you now Ice, huh, huh … ah?”
Ray-Jay cocked the hammer just as two supervisors jumped on top of him and the pistol shot a bullet into Ice Johnson’s skull, taking with it clods of bloody brain matter and bits of bones and depositing them on the suit coats of three supervisors. They wrestled Ray-Jay to the corner of the cockpit and that’s when the nine spoke again and again and again, blasting holes in the wall and front window of the big DC-9.
Frank ‘FNG’ Gray stared at the virtual blizzard of white spots that were blipping across the green background of his radar screen and couldn’t believe his eyes. He glanced suspiciously at the clock on the wall; it was fifteen-forty, military time for three-forty p.m., and a heavy flying period of the day. Gray gulped audibly and glanced over at Bull Greer, wondering idly if he should venture to ask for his opinion then nixed it, as it was probably nothing and would only give Greer another chance to insult him again. Then he watched as the blips began to go crazy and knew something was not right. He spotted Salty Stevens, the friendliest of the experienced controllers. “Salty, Salty, will you look at this?”
Salty was handling flight data that was spewing hurriedly out of a teletype machine just adjacent to his computer terminal and he took his eyes from it momentarily, to look over at Gray’s radar screen. He jumped up almost immediately and shrieked, “Gee-zuz, Bull, Bull, shee-it, Bull, lookit this, looks like a collision comin’ up, Gee-zuz Kee-rice. Holy shee-it, this guy’s doin’ six hundred per at twenty thousan’ feet and look at this other bastard; he’s droppin’ like a dead seagull. Gee-zuz, they gonna collide right on top of us.”
The phone blasted out a harsh ring and Bull Greer snapped, “Get that Gray.”
“Bull—it’s the Miami Center.”
Greer ripped the phone from Gray’s hands and barked, “Yeah, what? Yeah, we got ‘em on our screen too. Can’t you what? What? A Seven Forty-Seven and a Dee-Cee-Nine and only the Seven is responding? Well, tell ‘em to get the hell outta there, that Dee.-Cee-Nine is goin’ down fast. It’s, oh Gawd, oh Gee-zuz, Mary and Joseph.” The phone went dead and Bull exhaled audibly and stared at the radar screen. It appeared as if two planes had collided, although no one in the Fort Lauderdale tower, or airport, needed the screen to inform them that a horrendous crash had just taken place, as the fiery explosion over the runway told them that. Bull stared hypnotically at the radar screen, even as the others ran to the windows to see the carnage, as parts of the planes could be seen dropping from the sky and heading for their runway and buildings.
Drunk’ness, the darling favourite of hell.
—Defoe, The true-born Englishman. 1. 51.
Experience is the best of schoolmasters, only the school-fees are heavy.
—Carlyle, Miscellaneous Essays. Vol. 1, p. 137.
The sword of heaven is not in haste to smite,
Nor doth it linger.
—Dante, Paradiso. Canto xxii, 1. 16.
The airline industry would not soon recover from the crashes, as there were three of them, simultaneously. The DC-9, with Ray-Jay’s explosive rampage imploding inside the cockpit, had nose-dived from twenty-three thousand feet and had missed the 747, with one-hundred-twenty-one passengers and flight personnel on board, by less than a hundred yards but the 747 had collided with a small Cessna-152, piloted by none other than Gerry ‘Big G’ Reynolds, who had been so inebriated that he had not only strayed from his flight-pattern but had not even activated the single-engine 152’s transponder, the electronic devise that enables air traffic controllers to keep track of the aircraft’s traffic patterns. And so, the controllers at the Miami Air Route Traffic Control Center, just northwest of Miami International Airport, had failed to pick up Reynolds’ Cessna, which had crashed head-on with the 747, which was being flown at the time of the crash by the co-pilot, a man who had less air-time than ninety percent of the licensed pilots who were not flying because they were out on strike, demanding better hours and more money. It seemed, as would be learned later, that the pilot had been informed of a commotion in the rear of the plane; an unbelievable story that he, a father of four, had to check on himself and he was in the bathroom at the time of the collision—staring at the lifeless corpse of a soon to be angel.