Prototype: A Short Story (Part I)
Lavern Campbell replaced the business section back with the rest of the newspaper, folded it neatly and laid it on the seat next to him. He then removed his spectacles and placed them in their case before returning them in an inner pocket of the leather expandable attache he had with him.
He glanced at his watch. Fifteen minutes to go.
He stretched back on his seat, yawned and started taking in the scenes around him. Or so it seemed. From all appearances, his manner seemed casual, but a keen observer would have noticed that the man had hardly studied anything in the business section at all. Rather, his eyes had been busy subtly scanning the features of those around him as much as he dared.
The airport terminal was as it usually was, crowded with international passengers mingling with crew members and airport staff, brisk human traffic with luggage over moving walkways, headed toward gates and counters. A steady flow of men, women and children, all stepping aside occasionally to avoid colliding with the porter service units as they transported the elderly, incapacitated and disabled.
Advertising screens all around displayed a myriad of duty-free goods and prestigious airlines for travel to the most attractive, destinations. Above the buzz of airport activity came regular announcements over the intercom about flights that had been delayed or canceled, or names of the passengers who were required urgently at their boarding gates. There were also constant reminders not to leave any belongings unattended within the airport premises.
Though he was at the correct departure lounge for his own flight, Lavern had no idea that his name would also shortly join the list of those being called for.
The business consultant's present state of mind had processed the indicators around him and signaled back to his senses that he was safe.
They had not been able to trace him. Yet.
Lavern turned his attention to the massive glass panes overlooking the airdrome ramp, hangars and runways. From this vantage point, commercial jets could be observed arriving and departing, while several remained stationary, either boarding or waiting to onboard passengers. Some airport shuttles and maintenance vehicles moved busily about the area while security teams ensured safety was maintained.
The intercom announcement brought back his mind back to the present.
All passengers booked on flight R5432 to Amsterdam, your flight is now cleared for boarding. Please proceed to Gate H.
Quietly picking up his case, Lavern wasted no time joining the gathering queues at the counter in front of the boarding gate. Though this particular flight had over 200 passengers, the company he worked for had organized priority boarding for him due to the special nature of his assignment. His turn soon came and he was before the attendant, who greeted him with an amiable smile and proceeded to check his passport and swipe his boarding pass through the scanner. As soon as the light on the machine turned green, the attendant handed the passport and boarding pass back to him and waved him onward.
“Enjoy your flight, Mr. Campbell.”
The man hesitated.
While the attendant had been busy checking his documents, he had cast a curious glance behind him at the economy class boarding queue. Something there disturbed him and a few red flags started hoisting in his mind.
“Sir, you are cleared for boarding,” came the voice of the attendant who was waiting for him to move on in order for her to attend to the next passenger.
He looked beyond the attendant to the other passengers who were already filing their way through the corridor to board the waiting aircraft.
He shook his head. He had almost made it.
“I can’t.” He responded.
But Lavern had already grabbed his case and was heading away from the queues toward the main airport hall, leaving the attendant and other passengers staring. As he exited the scene, two other black-suited passengers immediately disengaged themselves from the economy class boarding queue and hurried at once after him.
As soon as he entered the corridor adjacent to the departure lounge, Lavern turned quickly and headed toward the washrooms. Before anyone had a chance to stop him, he slipped through double-doors labeled “Authorized Airport Personnel Only”.
Within seconds, the two men behind him had come round the same corner and were now looking this way and that. They seemed to settle their minds quickly and started off at once toward the main airport hall.
On the way, they made a sweeping visual search for the business consultant but could not trace him among the multitudes that formed the human traffic that was moving in all directions. They hurried on till they reached a point they knew it was not possible for him to have passed.
They conferred briefly with each other and presently began retracing their steps. None of the individuals they found in the corridor leading from the main airport hall to the departure lounge resembled the business consultant they were after.
He seemed to have simply vanished into thin air.
As one of the men stood there for a few moments taking in as much of the scenes around him as he could, the other whipped out his cell phone and began to make a call. The ensuing conversation over the phone seemed to quickly get out of hand as there was a heated exchange after which both men stormed away from the area, leaving a serviceman in overalls who was busy emptying the dustbins nearby with his back turned to them.
An airport supervisor doing his regular spot-checks approached the serviceman and began to give him some instructions. As the man turned his face toward him, the supervisor abruptly stopped.
“What on earth---?”
Lavern stared back at the man for a moment. His temporal cover had been blown. Now his mind needed to work quickly and figure out how to put together Plan C.
He finally looked about him and drew closer to the supervisor.
“I know, we have not met before and you're right, I don’t exactly work here either. I am employed by Allied Systems Inc. and what I am about to tell you may sound weird - and I do not expect you to believe me - but it is true.”
He paused for a moment, then continued. “You seem to be a reasonable person. I will take the chance of believing you can trust me. As we speak, the lives of thousands are at stake. What the two of us decide to do in the next few minutes can determine what the outcome will be for them.”
“What are you talking about, mister? How did you come by those overalls? Are you under some kind of medication that I should know about?”
“Believe me, I am just as sober as you are. I was booked to be on board the flight that is just about to depart as we speak. Here, I have proof,” he said, digging into his pocket and producing his boarding pass. For the first time, the supervisor noticed the well-ironed clothing beneath the overalls.
Sensing the genuineness of the consultant’s manner, the supervisor moved closer and examined the boarding pass while Lavern cast a cautious glance toward the direction of the men who had just left.
“So, what’s your story?” enquired the supervisor.
“I’m Lavern and the software company I work for is based near the industrial area. I was scheduled today to travel to Amsterdam to deliver a critically needed prototype. There are, however, other persons who are interested in it and will stop at nothing to ensure that the case I have with me never makes it to Europe.”
Presently, the supervisor shook his head and began stepping away. “Hey, if this has to do with terror or illegal trafficking--“
“No, no I am not linked to anything like that at all, you have got to believe I am telling the honest truth! Listen, there have been unexpected happenings at my place of work the last two weeks, which is why my manager resorted to sending me on this impromptu mission ahead of the prearranged date, to ensure that the prototype reaches the stakeholders on time. I was warned before embarking on this trip there will be hired men who will stop at nothing to terminate this mission by whatever means necessary. Those men are now here in this airport.”
“Why not simply report to the police?”
“We did, but then realized, as has been confirmed by our sources, these men are colluding with certain corrupt members of law enforcement to cover themselves. We have to handle it by ourselves until we know who exactly is acting on our side.”
“Understood. But I am going to have to see what is in your case, mister.”
At that moment there came an announcement over the intercom.
Final call for passenger Lavern Campbell booked on flight R5432 to Amsterdam. Please proceed to Gate H immediately. Final call for passenger Lavern Campbell booked on flight R5432 to Amsterdam. Please proceed to Gate H immediately. Thank you.
Both men were silent for a moment. Then the supervisor spoke up.
“You still have a chance to be on the flight, Mr. Campbell.”
“No. It is too risky now. They will be there at the gate waiting to pounce on me as soon as I show up. What I need is to contact my manager and let him know I have been made, and hence cannot proceed with this. They will have to send another courier.”
The supervisor stood for a few moments, unsure what to make of all this.
Finally, he said to Lavern. “Wait here, I’ll not be long.”
With that, he left the area and started walking toward the airport hall. Lavern saw him pick his service phone from its holder and begin making a call.
The consultant immediately knew this had been a bad idea. He had given out way too much information and he had also made a senior airport representative suspicious. The latter was most likely on his way to alert security to apprehend a deranged stranger he had found dressed in pinched service personnel attire with a controversial item in his possession and a weird fable.
There was no time to lose. Lavern narrowly missed plowing into a group of Chinese tourists trying to keep up with their tour guide, as he dropped the trash bags and dashed back into the personnel service room. Though previously empty, the room was now occupied and two genuine service persons looked up in surprise as the business consultant stormed into the place and proceeded to slip out of the overalls. He responded to their astonished faces with a weak smile, retrieved his case from where he had concealed it and was gone before either of them could ask questions about who he was or why he was there.
Once outside, he slipped quickly into the washroom where he proceeded to extract a cap and dark shades from his case. He removed his reversible jacket and wore it inside out, grabbed a smaller expandable bag out of his case and proceeded to fill it with all the contents that were in the case itself. He then dumped the case into the garbage bin. He momentarily inspected at his camouflaged appearance in the mirror and once satisfied, he stepped out of the washrooms and into the human traffic where he blended in with rest of the airport activities.
Though Lavern knew he was unrecognizable, he tried to make his exit appear as normal as possible. He felt the outline of the prototype in the bag he carried and knew he was not going to take any chances. Though it seemed to take forever, he was eventually out of the revolving doors of the airport and into the taxi waiting area.
Shortly, he was seated in one of them, on his way out of the airdrome. He chanced a look behind him at the retreating building, the vehicles and pedestrians. No one seemed to have noticed him at all. As the taxi hit the highway toward the Central Business District, joining the rapid stream of traffic there, he gently eased himself onto the back seat, flipped out his cell phone and proceeded to place a call to the manager. As soon as he the other end picked, he wasted no time narrating the details of what had transpired in the airport and the fact that he had foregone his flight due to security concerns.
In the middle of his phone conversation, Lavern was suddenly jolted back to the present by the sound of loud sirens. The taxi driver swerved out of the way as huge fire trucks passed them at tremendous speed toward the city. Lavern kept the phone on hold, waiting for the blaring noises to recede.
He presently reached out and touched the driver’s shoulder.
“Know what this is about?”
The man turned to one side. “You haven’t heard, have you?”
“About the huge fire in one of the buildings in Amberlen Street? Police reports have not yet determined the cause. The fire started a few hours ago. I know because the entire area there is sealed off as they try to bring the fire under control and we have had to navigate passengers elsewhere due to road closure.”
“Wait. Did you say Amberlen?”
“Yes, that was what was reported.”
Lavern’s brain began racing. He released the hold on his call and said, “Hey, I’ll call you later.”
With that, he disconnected and began to log onto the internet on his smartphone and searched locally for breaking news.
It didn't take him long to find a recent post.
Bizarre City Fire in Apartment Complex.
He scrolled further down and sure enough, beside the text, alarming images began to load.
A sudden wave of coldness swept over him as he read the caption on the second photo.
Firefighters strive to contain the flames which engulfed Building 365 on Amberlen Street. It has been confirmed that the strange fire started on the third floor…
Building 365. Amberley Street.
His apartment was on the third floor.
© 2018 Michael Duncan