A Fear of Flying
By William Rowe
It had been a beautiful day for a ride in the air. That first time I had left the ground had been when I was 16. Eddie and I were at a carnival outside of town. An interesting character with a bi plane had been there trying to make a few bucks by offering to take people up for five dollars a ride. We decided to try it, not together because it was a two seater. When it was over we agreed that we would do it again. There was no way of knowing our second experience wouldn’t cost us a dime.
Our second occasion came by courtesy of Uncle Sam. Eddie and I had graduated from boot camp at Parris Island and were waiting for transportation to Cherry Point, home of the 2nd Marine Air Wing. It was a disappointment for me because I had looked forward to passing through the main gate relatively free compared to my condition upon entering it. For five days we were transported to the airstrip to await the DC4, our conveyance. It must have been a very slow plane since it took five days to get to us from one state away.
Nothing could be seen from that plane because there were no windows except those in the nose where the pilots were. It was a cargo plane. There were no seats so we sat on the deck, strapped in by harnesses that hung from the bulkhead.
My third experience came when I had less than a year left on my three-year enlistment now extended to four by president Truman. Harry did not appreciate the Corps and made no bones about mentioning it from time to time. I never heard anyone in the Crops say a good word about him and that included me. In retrospect, these many years later, I have come to a change in attitude about the president. He is exactly what we need today. He and general Patton would have this mess cleaned up in two or three months. It’s not that we can’t do it. It is, very much, that we won’t do it.
We were on a carrier christened the Block Island and had been wandering around the Atlantic for about a month. The word was that we were going to make an assault landing by helicopter, something new in the Marine Crops, brand new since it had never been done before. It heralded the end of descending down a cargo net from the deck of a ship and into a landing barge.
It was quite an experience ascending straight up and watching a part of the deck become the whole deck and then the whole ship. Eddie was not with me on this one. We had long ago been separated by the Corps. I was with the 2nd regiment and he was still assigned to the 2nd Air Wing. These first helicopters carried five troops. They never actually set down. They would hover a few feet above the ground and we had ten seconds to vacate the chopper. It you were not on the ground by that time you either had some explaining to do when you returned or had a longer journey to the ground than you would have chosen. Our entire regiment was landed without a mishap.
The Korean conflict, you will notice I did not say war, came to an end within a year of my discharge after endless nonsense by the North Koreans about such things as the size of the conference table. This went on for well over a year resulting only in a cease-fire and, to this day, a peace treaty never signed.
Korea would prove to be the point at which this country started to lose itself. We became content with not losing and lost the will to win. The last declared war by this country was World War II. None of the so-called conflicts since then have been declared wars in spite of the thousands of dead and maimed. This is the result of politicians conducting our course of action in conflicts instead of patriots.
I cannot begin to tell you what I felt when I saw a dead Marine being dragged behind a jeep through the street of a mid eastern city whose inhabitants were cheering as it passed them. That Marine was sent there to distribute care packages to those same people. Somehow, someone got the idea that Marines were suited to be Santa Clause to people who hated them. The military used to exist to kill people and destroy things when needed. To this day my bitterness does not lessen.
This was the year that Eddie got married. We had been discharged less than a year ago, separately, and had not seen each other since. I had a job that paid well, forty to fifty a week, but did not have a car yet. So, how do I get to our old home town where Eddie still lived? Right. The fourth, and what I thought would be my last, journey through the air.
I boarded the DC4 and got a seat next to a window overlooking a wing. Yes, this DC4 had windows and seats. You might think that I was comforted by this but that was soon cancelled when I saw the rivets in the wing dancing up and down. It was then that I promised myself that I would never fly again. I was sincere but it turned out that it would not be my last sojourn into the wile blue yonder.
Three marriages, 19 grandchildren and well over fifty years later, I find myself, once again, about to board a plane. It is not, once again, a choice I make by preference. It was one of those calls you would never expect, but, once received, the prospect of redemption would be too compelling. To have the past of fifty years ago reach into your present was an experience not everyone would welcome. There are a number of people in my past I would gladly make contact with and, while I do not want to get into grading them, Victoria might very well have been at the head of the list. We were at that pre adult past childhood age of 15. There was something angelic about her. Even her name suggested that. I’m quite sure that I can remember all the girls and women that have been in my life. What I might say about any one of them has no bearing on what I feel about the rest. Some thirty odd years ago someone looked into my future and asked me why I didn’t want something more stable in my life. I answered by saying that I like the challenge and security was not an issue for me. One cannot follow that course without cost and it cost me dearly in many ways. There came a time when I said no more, I am done with it and lived with that choice for six years or so.
When it happened I had no idea what had been foreseen was happening. When I stopped looking it found me. But there are more than a few people I owe in my past. Most of them are gone. So when I have the opportunity to make amends I will do so. I will even get on a plane to do it.
By Paul Dominick
I stood in a winding line of harried travelers, waiting my turn to have an over-weight and over-stressed security guard glance at my license and look up to check my eye color. She scribbled her initials on my boarding pass with a red Sharpie wielded like a stern and silent schoolmarm.
I’d rather think of Victoria. Her easy smile and sad, brown eyes are burned into my gray matter like a rancher’s brand on a spring calf. Her baleful stare and generous lips have bewitched me for over fifty years.
I kicked off my loafers, removed my belt and watch and emptied my pockets. I surrendered my trifles to the plastic trays moving haltingly toward inspection. Shuffling along like a prisoner in a chow line, I waited to be beckoned forward with an aggressive, “Next.” Thoughts of the barefoot and displaced citizens of Seoul fleeing the destruction of the Chinese onslaught flashed in my mind.
I thought again of Victoria and her image restored my purpose. I don’t know how she found me but I guess the inter-net opens up the world to those who can differentiate user-name from password. Hell, I can’t even access the e-mail account my grandson set up for me.
She said she was in trouble and that I was the only one who could help her. Would I come as soon as possible? I can still hear the urgency in her voice. But even her seriousness was softened by the gentleness of her tone and careful choice of gracious words.
She made a soulful plea sound like a lover’s sigh. I would have killed for her half a century ago. Today, I’d also dismember and deep-fry.
Once I had my belongings back I headed to gate 22. My flight was on time and would depart in forty-eight minutes.
She sounded desperate when we spoke but when questioned became evasive. Her charming refusal to be candid was steeped in a disarming gentility. I began to realize that I was remembering her as a coquettish teenager who wore her virginity with defiance and pride. She once told me that the poodle embroidered on her flared skirt was there for protection. If I became too frisky, she’d say, “Bad boy” and slap my hand as if I were a misbehaving puppy.
Even her rebukes were sweet and delivered with a smile that made your hormones simmer. Victoria allowed me to traverse the warmth of her thigh but the top of her stockings marked “no-man’s land”. She monitored our platonic gymnastics with the acute focus of an air-traffic controller. Certain runways and approaches were “no-fly zones” and her reactions were clear and direct.
“Stop that,” she’d whisper. “No,” she’d state firmly and follow it with a tap on the top of my busy little hand.
We loved each other with an intense adolescent fury that bruised our lips and left our tongues throbbing. They called it “necking” back then and we mastered the art of defining the boundaries of appropriate touching by flirting with its fringes. Sometimes our fingers would find a new spot and our lust would come to a rolling boil.
“I can’t,” she’d say. “We shouldn’t,” she’d utter with resignation.
I found a seat facing the windows overlooking the tarmac. Planes came and went with a synchronous rhythm. Some raced east and I watched the tires lift from the ground and retreat into their housings. Others slowly turned into the concourse to be met by a telescoping passageway sent out to tunnel another load of the numb and stiff from the cloud bus with seats too small and nuts for lunch.
“Excuse me,” she said in a voice so demure I didn’t respond.
“Sir, excuse me.”
Could you watch my bag while I go for a sandwich? Would you like a coffee while I’m up?”
The flight wouldn’t be boarding for at least twenty minutes and a coffee sounded good. “Sure. Thank you very much.”
Her bag was one of those canvas sacks with handles that are common on beaches and boats. Its top was open and I saw a cell phone, hair curler and several scarves or towels. The sides bulged. I was reminded of the throw pillows that littered my mother’s couch.
She seemed to be gone a long time. The plane would board in about five minutes. I turned in my seat to look down towards the food court. She was coming my way, walking with long strides. The pace conveyed resolve and unhurried efficiency. Her hair bounced and her hips swung. I was taken by the confident sexuality of a successful professional woman who wore her attractiveness like armor and not as a weapon.
She had shoulder length dark brown hair that glistened with hints of red as she passed the windows in front of our seats. Her only make-up was lipstick, a shade of pink, like prom carnations. She wore a tailored business suit with a top showing a hint of cleavage that spoke of her pride in being a woman. The collar and buttons said, ‘my skills demand respect’. Her mid-calf pencil skirt made a similar statement. It was trim to suggest her shapely proportions but long enough to avoid distractions.
As she sat down next to me, she crossed her legs and handed me a cup of airport Starbucks.
“You look like a guy who drinks his coffee black,” she said, “but in case I’m wrong, I picked up some cream and sugar packets.”
“Thank you. You’re right. I usually drink decaf but, what the hell, I’ll live on the edge today.”
She smiled, uncrossed her legs and extended her hand. “My name is Fatima.”
“Pleased to meet you. I’m Conrad. My father was impressed with the work of Conrad Lorenz. You know the goose and gosling guy.”
“Oh yes, I remember him from my Psy. One-oh-one class. They followed him around, the little goslings, because they imprinted on him, right?”
“Very good. Your Psy. Prof. would be proud.
“Is Atlanta your final destination?” she asked.
“No, I’m just making a connection for another flight.
“Same with me” she said as she put her sandwich into the purse on her lap. It was made with pita bread but I didn’t recognize the filling. She caught me looking at her lunch and said, “I had them make it special. All the pre-made ones were either red-dye number-three sliced ham or reconstituted chicken.”
“Are you from this area?” I asked.
“No…no, I’m not. Actually, I was raised not too far from here. I was brought up at Father Baker’s Home for Children.”
“The one in Lackawanna?”
“That’s the one.
By Bob Kerins
Someone was calling off row numbers, telling people to form a line to board the aircraft.
“I think I should get in line, they called my row several minutes ago,” Fatima said.
Conrad rose with her. He read his boarding pass, but couldn’t make heads or tails of the information on it. “I’m not sure where I’m supposed to go.”
Fatima read the card. “You’re in seat 22C. You should get in line, too.”
He watched the passengers in front of him as they handed their boarding pass to the agent near the door. He slipped the pass into a slot in a machine where it was whisked away. The machine returned a small portion of the boarding pass, which the agent returned to the passenger.
Conrad handed his pass to the agent.
“Have a nice trip Mr. Stapleton,” the agent said as he slipped the pass into the machine.
Conrad jerked a little at the mention of his name, but then remembered his last name was printed on the boarding pass. He walked slowly, trying to overhear Fatima’s last name, but the agent called her “Fatima” when she approached.
Conrad increased his pace as he walked through the jet-way. The downgrade forced him to slow down to keep from tripping. As he rounded a corner, he nearly ran into the person in front of him in the line. There were about 10 people waiting to get onto the plane. Fatima caught up with him but said nothing as they waited for the line to move forward.
# INT Boeing 737 at Buffalo airport
Once on the plane, Conrad crab walked his way down the narrow aisle, moving slowly as the passengers in front of him with their carry-on luggage in the overhead bins. He finally got to his seat, and put his small leather carryall bag under the seat in front of him. He squeezed into the seat trying to fit his 6’3″ frame into the narrow space. His knees were pushing against the seat in front of him. The woman in the seat next to him had already confiscated the armrest, so he was at a loss for a place where his left arm.
He found the card with the emergency instructions in the seat pocket in front of him, and interpreted the pictures. Returning that, he found an in-flight magazine and began reading it. He was trying very hard to keep his mind off the fact that he would soon be leaving the ground and be completely at the mercy of some kid in the pilot seat, and a 20-year-old aircraft with a sketchy maintenance record.
He was concentrating so hard on the magazine article that he didn’t hear of the flight attendant at first. She tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention.
“We have a more comfortable seat for you Mr. Stapleton. Would you please follow me?” She turned and started walking forward. Conrad tried to climb out of the seat, but realized he was still strapped in by the seatbelt. Finally freeing himself, he got up and followed the flight attendant. She led him forward to the first-class section. She turned and pointed to a comfortable looking seat and said, “Since we have extra seats in first class, Ms. Coulombe asked if we could bring you forward to sit next to her.”
Conrad turned to look at the woman in the seat next to his, and there was Fatima. “This is a pleasant surprise. Thank you so much for thinking of me. I don’t know how I would have made it through a 2 1/2 hour flight in that cramped seat back there.”
“You did me a favor in the terminal, and I thought I’d return it. Besides, I’d really like some good company for the ride.”
Conrad made himself comfortable in the wide leather chair, strapped himself in, and then remembered he’d forgotten his carryall bag. “Oh jeez, I forgot my bag I’ll have to go back and get it.”
Just as he unbuckled his seatbelt, the flight attendant returned with his bag. “Did you forget this, Mr. Stapleton?”
“Oh, thank you very much I was just about to go for it.”
“Pardon me for intruding,” Fatima said. “You seemed to be a little lost in the airport and here on the plane. I’m guessing you don’t fly very often?”
“Well let’s see, the last plane I flew in was a DC-4. That’s a four-engine prop. I’m not sure if you were even born when I took that flight.”
“I’m older than I look,” she said. “I’ll be 59 this year.”
“Wow, I never would’ve guessed. I would’ve said mid-forties if anyone asked, and I’m supposed to be good at guessing people’s ages. I’m a retired cop.”
They were interrupted by a message from the pilot inviting everyone aboard and thanking them for flying his airline. Then the roar of the engines prevented them from hearing what the other was saying for a few minutes as the aircraft taxied to the runway.
Buffalo is not a very big airport and it’s not very busy either. There were no planes ahead of them, so the pilot turned right onto the runway, revved his engine’s, released the brakes and the plane hurtled down the runway. Conrad didn’t realize it, but he had a white knuckled grip on both armrests. Fatima placed her hand over his during his panic attack. Once the plane was airborne, Conrad heard the bumping and banging as the landing gear was retracting itself into the fuselage. He nearly jumped right out of the seat, the seat belt keeping him in place.
Once the noises settled down, and the plane steadily gained altitude, Conrad felt himself begin to relax. His heart rate began to drop below 150, and his blood pressure dropped to less than lethal levels. He allowed himself to sink back into the chair and relax a little. He felt his fore head, and found it soaked with sweat. He dug his handkerchief from his pocket and tried to dry his fore head. He turned to Fatima, who had a gentle smile on her face.
“Now it wasn’t all that bad was it?”
“If you mean, did I live through it, yes so far.”
Fatima giggled. Conrad noticed the woman had not released his hand. It was an unfamiliar, but good feeling. He slowly settled back into his seat, allowing the tension to flow out of his body.
Fatima asked him to tell her about his trip. Conrad spent the next two hours telling the woman all about Victoria, His life-long unrequited love affair with the woman who’d disappeared from his life just as he’d built the courage to ask her to be his wife. He finished his tale with the strange message he’d received from this woman from another lifetime. He was on his way to help her.
When the captain announced that they were beginning their approach for Atlanta International Airport, Conrad realized that he’d dominated the conversation for the entire trip. “I’m sorry, your ears must hurt from all the talking I’ve done. I haven’t given you a chance to say a word.”
“Your story is fascinating, Conrad. I can’t imagine any man coming to rescue me. Especially a man I hadn’t seen in nearly 60 years.”
“Victoria needs my help. That’s enough for me. Besides, what else would an old fogy like me be doing with his time?”
“She must still mean very much to you, to get you on a plane after all these years.”
“Like Mr. Spock said, ‘For everything, there is a first time.'”
“I hope her problem isn’t anything serious.”
Conrad hadn’t realized it, until that moment, but Fatima had been distracting him from the aircraft’s descent and approach to the runway. He heard the squeal of the tires and felt the bump of the landing gear hitting the runway. Then the roar of the reversing engines as they slowed the plane to a manageable speed. He looked at Fatima. “You did an excellent job. I had no idea that I was about to die.”
Fatima giggled again. “I’m glad I got you through your flight unscathed.”
“Where are you heading now?” Conrad asked.
“I’m off to a meeting with one of our business associates. I’ll need to hurry to make my connection.”
Conrad looked at his watch. “I think I have over two hours for my next flight.”
“You should head directly to the gate for your next flight. It’s a long walk, and you have to take a shuttle to another terminal, too.”
The flight attendant opened the door, and Fatima was on her feet, pushing past Conrad. She grabbed her bag from the overhead, leaned down, gave him a peck on the cheek, and disappeared through the door.
# INT Atlanta Airport
Conrad sat for another five seconds, then stood and left the plane. As he wandered through the Atlanta terminal, he kept running his conversation with Fatima through his head. He was sure he never mentioned where Victoria lived, or what city he was headed for. How did Fatima know about his connection?
By Charles Woolcutt
I watched my brother-in-law, Ken, come down the departure ramp, he was talking to another passenger. They could have been twins. He saw me, and shook hands with his companion, free to walk again after the confines of modern air travel.
“I thought Bev was picking me up, is she OK?” He asked nervously.
“All right,” I answered him. “She went shopping with Dot. I escaped the shopping frenzy. You’re coming to dinner with us.”
Ken was quiet on the way home. I asked him about the flight and he told me about the fellow passenger.
“He was in the Corps the same time I was,” Ken reminisced. “We talked about the good old days.”
“You got shot in Korea, didn’t you?” I broke in. “Getting wounded didn’t seem like ‘good old days’ to me.”
“Well, yes, that was the luckiest day of my life,” he sighed. “You know I quit school when my dad dies. I joined up then. I could send a few bucks home instead of being a burden on mom.”
He continued, “After boot camp I got sent to Korea. We had just started to push the ‘Commies’ back where they belonged. They retreated across the 38th, then we followed them to the Chinese border. We thought we won, then the Chinese sent two army corps in against us. Our supply lines were stretched too far and we were surrounded for a while. Some of us broke out, the Marines stayed as rear guard. I didn’t know ‘til today what happened to those we left behind.”
Quietly I said, “Tell me about the ‘good old days’ part.”
“OK.” He seemed relieved. “It was a moonlit night, we were in a 4 x 4. The convoy was traveling south on a gravel road along a river. I was in the center seat. The soldier on the passenger side, next to the door, complained. He went on and on about how dangerous the door side was. He felt that it would be more fair if we changed seats often. He was worried about snipers. He wanted someone, me, between him and that thin door metal.”
“When we stopped for a security check point we had to get out. He jumped back in and took my place. I didn’t complain like he did, I tried to get to sleep. No half a mile down the road a bullet came in through the windshield killing him. Then it rattled around the cab, ending in my left butt. The would didn’t bleed much. The driver put a dressing on it and dropped me off at the next aid station. I don’t know what happened to the soldier that took my place.”
“I was flown to Sasebo, Japan, and when I was stabilized, to State side. During convalescence and rehab I finished the high school equivalency and got a disability discharge. I used the G.I. Bill to go to Rochester Tech and went to work at Xerox as an electrical engineer. That was my lucky day. This isn’t bad either, flying around to trade shows and conferences.”
“The marine isn’t doing badly either. We’re survivors.”
By John S. Bis
As Steve turned on to the highway from the Birmingham, Alabama airport he glanced at his brother-in-law Ken and said, “If you don’t mind, Ken, I got to stop at the office for just a minute before we go to the house.”
“No problem at all. Incidentally, how is the hotel business doing here in Birmingham?”
“Frankly, not well at all. In fact, if the city didn’t own the building I’m sure Sheraton would have pulled their franchise out. Occupancy is way down, and well below normal expectations.”
“So, is that impacting you personally, if I might ask? You still are the general manager, aren’t you?”
“Yep, and fortunately I work for the city’s convention and visitor’s bureau and not directly by Sheraton Hotels. That’s a plus to them, not having to pay my salary and a lot of others. That, plus some tax breaks, is what keeps them here.”
“Sounds pretty grim. It must keep you hustling for occupants.”
“You got that right. In fact, the reason for stopping is to check on how well a function planned for later today is going. We have a long term resident who is throwing a big dinner party for an out of town guest. She’s one of those grand old women, you know the type, lots of money from who knows where, and she entertains in high fashion 3 or 4 times a year. She’s been a resident for about, I don’t really know, 15 years or more. She says she prefers living in a hotel and does it in style, taking up almost half of the 12th floor. She once told me, ‘Steve, this is the life. I don’t have to worry about housekeeping, or cooking, or hiring help.’”
“It must cost her a fortune.”
“You know, it is costly but she obviously can afford it. And to meet her you’d never know she is ‘money.’ She is very pleasant and is satisfied with the arrangement – – and the staff love her.”
By this time they had left the highway and were entering the hotel parking ramp. Steve said, “Come on Ken, no sense you sitting here. I’ll drop you off at the restaurant while I go check on the arrangements for Mrs. Delmar’s function.”
As they exited the hallway from the parking ramp Ken said more to himself than to Steve, “I’ll be damned. That guy at the check-in desk is the ex-Marine I sat next to on the plane from Atlanta. Let me go over and say hello. Come on with me Steve, I’d like you to meet him.”
Ken walked across the lobby with Steve trailing behind. The desk clerk looked up when he saw the general manager approaching. He nodded and said, “Mr. Larson, how are you sir?”
The ex-Marine checking in turned and saw Ken approaching him. “Hey, Ken, I didn’t know you were staying here too.”
“Hi, Conrad, I’m not. I’m staying with my brother-in-law. Conrad meet Steve Larson, he’s the general manager of this place.”
Conrad said, “Conrad Stapleton, nice to meet you Steve.”
Larson said, “Nice meeting you. I hope you have a nice visit with us.” He nodded toward the desk clerk and said, “I’m sure Tom here and the other staff will do their best to make your stay as pleasant as possible.”
“I’m sure they will,” said Conrad. “And I have a friend I’m supposed to meet here.” He turned to Tom asking, “Has a Victoria Delmar checked in yet?”
Before the clerk could answer Steve Larson said, “Well, yes she has, Conrad. Probably more than 15 years ago. She lives here, practically owns the 12th floor.”
Conrad looks totally confused and looked back and forth between Tom, Steve and Ken. Finally, looking right at Ken he said, “Well, as I said to you on the plane, I was coming to see and old friend and it was going to be an adventure. It sure is turning out to be that, isn’t it? Given this setting I wonder what kind of help I could possibly give Victoria.”
He looked at all three men looking at him. He was inwardly smiling, thinking . . . first Fatima’s generous offer of a first class seat, and now this, a Victoria much different from what I expected. Then he turned toward Tom, “Please ring Victoria Delmar and let her know I’m here.”
By Joanne Molnar
Victoria (Heroine – Victim?) looked up from her desk with a sheaf of papers in her hand. With a smile she gives them to her assistant.
“Good work, Jane. I think we’ve covered it all. I’m glad Steve (hotelier/co-conspirator?) was able to locate sunflowers for the centerpieces. They were Conrad’s favorite.”
With a graceful stretch she stands up. “Now to get myself ready.” She grins ruefully. “It’s been a long time. We both have changed.”
Jane laughs, “I’m sure he will be pleased. I’ll take care of everything from here.”
Victoria gazed out the window – – a far away look in her eyes. Jane returns to announce Conrad’s arrival.
As the two lovers meet after all these years, both smile in appreciation. She giggles a little. “Conrad, you have a little less hair!”
He agrees, adding, “And a little more girth! You, my dear, are as beautiful as ever.”
Both relaxing this first meeting went well. It’s as if they’ve never been apart. She takes him to the guest room, making arrangements to meet down stairs to go to the banquet room.
Conrad is grateful that he had brought dress clothes as he takes the elevator to the mezzanine and they’re agreed upon meeting place. Victoria
appeared as if on cue, looking radiant in a cream colored silk dress that flowed with her movements.
“You’re gorgeous,” Conrad sighs as they enter the dining room arm-in-arm. Conrad gasps when he sees all the sunflowers. “Thank you,” he breathes as she clasps his hand.
In the meantime, Adam Krueger (villain), reassures Fatima (accomplice) that she looks wonderful and will be perfect in her role as they approach the entrance.
“After all, she is your mother. You deserve this. She did abandon you to an orphanage.”
After a whirlwind of meeting people, Victoria and Conrad turn to see late arrivals. When Fatima sees Conrad with Victoria she stiffens and lowers her eyes. Adam introduces her to Victoria who, in turn, introduces Conrad. “Nice to meet you, “ he says as she shake her hand.
“Thank you,” she murmurs and moves on.
“Who are they?” Conrad asks Victoria.
“I feel as if I know her from somewhere but I can’t remember where,” she answers. “But he is the man I think is trying to kill me.”
By Kathy Kifer
Conrad glanced at his watch and noticed it was nearly ten o’clock. He had been up since five a.m., traveled much of the day and reunited with an old flame. He should be exhausted by now, but – oh, my – he could not take his eyes off of the angel in cream silk, drifting through the party like a wispy cloud on a moonlit night.
Victoria moved among her appreciative guests with kisses, hugs and handshakes to the gentle sounds of a string quartet, clinking champagne glasses, soft laughter and murmured compliments on the outstanding five-course dinner that had been served. This was a world he could not have provided her with, had they spent the last sixty years together, yet as much at home as she seemed here, Conrad knew she would have graced and made the most of any situation she had found herself in. Victoria was born with class and nothing could ever have changed that.
In the midst of his reverie, Conrad suddenly realized that Victoria’s eyes had caught his from across the room and she was motioning him to follow her as she turned and headed for a side door. He got up and went to the door as she held it slightly open, as if to not let the guests see where she had gone. He slipped into the smaller, adjoining dining room and she closed and locked the door behind them. The sounds of the party became muted as they embraced. It felt so natural, holding her like this, that he could not believe it had been sixty years. It felt so wonderful, that he was afraid he might wake up. ”You sure know how to throw a party, my dear.”
She looked up at him and gave him a tender kiss on the lips. “I’m glad you liked the sunflowers,” she smiled knowingly.
“They’re gorgeous_ I’ve never seen so many in my life,” Conrad grinned. “Almost as many as those great big ones Mom had in her garden in the back yard.”
Victoria nodded and sighed. “Where we used to hide to be alone, just the two of us.”
She took his hand and led him to a table by the floor-to-ceiling windows through which the city lights provided a spectacular backdrop to the softly lit room. They sat down.
“Besides the sunflowers, who are all those people?” Conrad wanted to know.
“Oh, just some friends and business associates of my late husband’s,” Victoria replied. “I keep in touch with them and I invite all of them to dinner about once a year so I don’t have to worry about entertaining them individually. I know Dan would have wanted me to do that.”
“Dan–“ Conrad repeated, stricken with the reality of another flesh-and-blood man in her life.
“Yes.” Victoria lowered her eyes under a veil of thick lashes. “I was married to Dan for nearly forty years. He was much older, a kind man who was good to me. He gave me more financial security and a richer life than I ever could have imagined, but – I never truly loved him the way I did you. I will never love anyone the way I –“ Her words drifted off before she slowly stood and walked to the window where she took a sip from the champagne glass she still held.
Conrad felt a sudden gulp in his throat and wished he had brought his drink with him. “I tripped and stumbled through three fiascos I called marriages, six screwed-up kids who blame me for everything and nineteen grandkids who don’t want to know me, all because I never found anyone I loved the way I love you, either.” He sighed, slowly shaking his head. “Why, Victoria? Why did you disappear on me without word? Did you know I was going to ask you to marry me? If you weren’t ready, you could have said so. I would have waited for you. Christ, I would have done anything for you–“
”I knew that_” she cried without looking at him. She covered her mouth for a moment, then said softly, “I knew that, Conrad, but I couldn’t bear the thought of you marrying me out of duty and then resenting it later.”
“I – “ She turned toward him, her brown eyes glimmering with tears. “Conrad, I was pregnant.”
As he slowly rose from his chair, she looked away again. “You didn’t know my mother very well.”
“What does your mother have to do with any of this?” Conrad couldn’t keep his voice steady.
“My mother hated me because I was so different from her and because my father loved me, doted on me and only wanted me to be happy. When he died, I was fifteen and she proceeded to make my life a living hell, trying to keep me from my friends, from whatever activities I enjoyed, and especially from dating you.”
“I do recall how unwelcome she made me feel, the couple of times I came for you,” Conrad said.
Victoria nodded. “When I realized I was pregnant, I tried to keep it from her. I didn’t know what to do – “
”Why didn’t you come to me, Victoria? We would have gotten through it together.”
“You were shipping out in a couple of weeks. I couldn’t throw that at you at a time like that.”
Conrad sighed. “Oh, Victoria – all those letters I wrote to you that were never answered, and when I tried to call you, your mother told me you had found someone else and didn’t want to see me anymore – “
”It was all her doing, Conrad. She knew it was killing me and she relished every moment of it. I finally ran away to the Father Baker Home in Lackawanna, to get away from her and try to have my baby in peace.”
“The Father Baker home – “ Conrad repeated, suddenly recalling the conversation with Fatima on the plane in what seemed like ages ago.
Victoria continued, “I thought I could have the baby, get some help and find a way to raise it on my own. I wanted that baby. But I was only seventeen and, by law, the home had to contact my mother. When she found out where I was and why, she had me right where she wanted me. I begged her to let me keep the baby and promised her I would work hard and take care of it myself, but she forced me to sign the adoption papers.” Victoria sighed and lowered her head. “There were complications during the birth and it left me very weak. I had a long recovery, but I never even got to see the baby. All I knew was that it was a girl and that she almost died.” Victoria put her long, slender fingers to her lips. “I never heard anymore, and when I was well enough, I went home but I didn’t stay there long. When I graduated from high school the next year, I went to work as a waitress at the Sheraton in Buffalo. Dan owned the franchise and noticed me. I was young and scared and finally someone cared for me and could offer me some security.”
Conrad had no doubt that, even at eighteen, Victoria could have easily caught the eye of an older man. She had always been more poised and sophisticated than her tender years. She was never a “typical” teenager and had a classical beauty and grace that made her stand out.
“If I hadn’t been such a coward,” Victoria continued, “I would have tried to get more information about my daughter all these years, but I was afraid of upsetting Dan and he was all I had. I told myself that it was best for my daughter to have her own life and hoped it was a happy one.”
“Why are you telling me all of this now, Victoria?” Conrad asked.
She turned to him. “Because I think our daughter has been looking for me, and I think she may even be here – tonight. And if she has found me, she will want to know about you.” A sad smile etched Victoria’s lips. “I could not have fallen in love with you or stayed in love with you all these years if I thought you would not want to acknowledge our child.”
“If only you’d given me the opportunity,” Conrad sighed as he walked to her and put his arms around her. He knew he should be angry. After all, he’d been cheated out of the life he’d been meant to have with Victoria – a life where there would have been not just one child he had never known, but several children and a happy marriage. That had been the dream. He thought about the young woman Adam had introduced to them as Karen or Carol, he couldn’t remember. He had hardly gotten a look at her because she had passed by so quickly, her head lowered. He remembered that she was wearing dark glasses and had her hair pulled back tightly. She had seemed ill at ease, even anxious. Could she actually be their daughter? Was she the woman he had traveled with? This “Fatima” to whom he’d told his life story? He decided he would not say a word to Victoria about it until he’d had a chance to do his own investigating.
“And about that young man, Adam, who you introduced me to, Victoria, why would you think he was trying to harm you?”
“That young man is Dan’s godson, but he thinks I don’t remember him. Dan and I had no children, but his best friend had a son, Michael. Dan just loved Michael and became a second father to him. He gave him a lot of expensive gifts and even took him to Europe for his sixteenth birthday. I always sensed that Michael was “playing” him, once he figured out that Dan would do anything for him. Dan even left Michael a substantial amount of money for his education, which Michael had access to and used – for what, I’m not sure. But he is also named in Dan’s will as the sole heir upon my death. I have always been deeply concerned about that and I admit, I’ve done all I could to keep that information from getting to him until I’m gone. Michael was eighteen when Dan passed away. I hadn’t seen him since the funeral, fifteen years ago, and then a few weeks ago I began to notice a new security guard around here. He introduced himself as Adam Krueger. He was paying extra attention to me, obviously trying to befriend me, and then he also got himself hired by Steve to be my chauffeur. Something didn’t feel just right with him, and then a few days ago, it hit me. I realized that he’s actually Michael.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m quite sure.”
“And the girl with him?”
“I think she may be our daughter.”
Fatima continued to keep an eye on the door through which Victoria and Conrad had disappeared. She had barely been aware of the party around her for the past hour or so. All she could think about was the awesome realization that those two people were her parents. No amount of dreaming or imagining over all these years had prepared her for the way she felt when she first saw them standing there together, elegant and perfectly matched.
Fatima had immediately recognized her own features in her mother’s oval-shaped face with its long, slender nose and large, almond eyes. She had fallen in love with Conrad the moment she had seen him at the airport in Buffalo and had enjoyed every moment of the time she had spent with her unsuspecting father; looking after him, talking with him, not wanting to let go of his hand when she had reassured him on the plane. Thank God her disguise had worked tonight and she was fairly certain Conrad hadn’t recognized her here. All she could think about now was this pivotal moment in her life.
She had no bitterness for the parents who had chosen not to know her. Her very survival at birth had been a miracle, one the nuns at Father Baker had celebrated when they named her “Fatima” and never let her forget how special she was to all of them. It was due to a mild heart condition and her frailty as a child that the nuns had managed to keep her with them, and as time went on, Fatima could not have imagined living anywhere else. Although she was loved and deeply cared for there, Sr. Beatrice had always made it clear to her that her mother had only been a scared teenager who had no means of providing for her, but that never meant she didn’t love her. Sr. Beatrice had been the only mother figure Fatima had known, and the other nuns at Father Baker’s had been a supportive, loving family to her until she completed college and struck off on her own.
Adam was suddenly leaning over her, his hand on her bare shoulder. “What do you say, Fatima? It’s eleven o’clock. You must be tired. I’ll walk you to your room.”
She gazed longingly at the closed door across the room one more time, but she knew it was time to call it a night. She was over-tired, over-emotional and needed a good night’s rest before she would feel strong enough to make her decision. Would she leave tomorrow, having satisfied her curiosity about who her parents were, or would she approach them, face the possibility that they might not be at all receptive to her, and go home broken-hearted with no more dream to sustain her?
“What do you say, Babe?” Adam’s hand was lightly massaging her skin. His brazenness irritated her, especially for a man who was so much younger. But he didn’t seem intimidated by their age difference.
“Okay.” Fatima got to her feet and took the arm Adam offered her.
He escorted her to the room he had booked for her on the eleventh floor, just below Victoria’s twelfth floor suite. Before she could reach for her key, Adam unlocked the door. When she turned to look at him, he grinned as his arm came down beside her and he leaned into the wall. “Master key, Babe. Don’t forget – I’m Security.”
Fatima felt an unexplainable shiver. “Adam, I can’t thank you enough for bringing me this far, for finding me, finding my parents and making all these arrangements, but I can take it from here.”
“But I can have Jane set something up between you and your mom tomorrow. We can get you right into her suite so you can talk to her–“
”I don’t even know if I’m staying, Adam.”
“Wait a minute. Why would you wait your whole life, finally get here and not follow through on this? She dumped you in a lousy orphanage, for God’s sake. Look what she did to your life. You’re due some compensation, Babe.”
“Adam, please stop calling me “Babe”. I haven’t given you permission to do that and it’s insulting_” she snapped.
“Permission?” Adam’s incredulous gaze darkened before he forced a chuckle. He slowly loosened his tie, shaking his head. “You are your mother’s daughter.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Fatima wanted to slap him, but sensed that Adam was already struggling to keep his cool. “I told you from the first time you contacted me that all I wanted to do was meet my mother. The fact that I’ve also met my father is a bonus I couldn’t have imagined. I don’t care about their money or lack of it. I don’t want to disrupt their lives at this point in time. I’ve got my own life and career. I just wanted to see them and know that they really exist–“
Adam was shaking his head again. “Growing up in that Catholic orphanage really did a number on you. You’re as prissy as a freakin’ nun.”
This time Fatima’s hand reflexively struck the side of his face. She gasped as he grabbed her hand and pulled her closer.
He grinned at the sudden shock on her face. “So you’re not all nun. I didn’t think so.” When he felt her resisting, he drew her a little closer. “Now here’s the deal, Fatima. How about you get some sleep so you can think clearly. You and I worked hard to get to this point, and I’m not gonna let you just give up and go home now.”
His breath was close enough to stir her hair and his tight grip on her wrist was unnerving her. She nodded slowly, glaring at him.
“That’s my girl.” He released her. “Nothing like a good night’s sleep to give you some perspective. I’ll call you in the morning and we’ll have breakfast.”
“No thank you,” Fatima replied before she stepped into her room and shut the door.
From outside, Adam heard her quickly turn the deadbolt and do up the chain “Yeah, you’d better put the chain on,” he muttered under his breath. “Uppity bitch_” He spun around and punched the wall before he headed down the hallway.
At the far end, he slipped his master key into the last door. Looking both ways, he stepped inside the suite, locking the door behind him. “Where are you?” he called out.
He walked through the living room where the TV. was on low with the eleven o’clock news. Through the bedroom doorway he saw discarded clothes on the bed and heard the shower running. His lips twitched in anticipation as he went to the open bathroom door and saw the alluring beige shadow moving behind the frosted glass. He reached into his vest and pulled out his Glock, then ripped the shower door open. “You’re under arrest_”
Jane turned around and giggled. “It’s about time, and bring that gun with you.”
Adam lay staring at the ceiling with Jane tucked under his arm.
“You were kind of mean tonight,” Jane murmured sleepily, “but I liked it.”
Adam inhaled on his cigarette. He’d had to get Fatima out of his system somehow.
“How did the dinner go?” Jane asked.
“It went. But she’s not cooperating,”
Jane rose on one elbow. “What do you mean?”
“She’s all goody-two-shoes about this deal. Christ, I never would have involved her if I thought she’d pull this on me.”
“Why? What did she say?”
“I just wanted to see them,” Adam mimicked. “Meeting my father was a bonus. I don’t care about their money.”
Jane dropped back onto the pillow. “After all the research I did and the work to get her here, and now she’s going to get in the way?”
Adam took another draw on his cigarette. “Oh, she’s not gonna get in the way. If she’s part of the problem, she’s gonna be eliminated with the rest of the problem.”
“What do you mean?” Jane sounded concerned.
“Never mind. I’ll take care of it. You just concentrate on booking those travel plans and getting us out of here.” He rolled over and stroked her hair. “You made all of this possible for us – snooping through the old lady’s legal papers and checking up on her will–“ He paused as Jane’s finger tantalizingly traced his lips.
“It’s easy when you’re the trusted personal secretary,” she smiled, barely above a whisper.
“I have to admit, you do have a way with personal service,” Adam growled before he hungrily sought her lips again.
The next time he opened his eyes, there was a hint of light filtering through the blinds. He glanced over at the clock on the bed table and saw that it was almost 6:00. With Jane still fast asleep, he eased out of the bed, quickly pulled on his pants and shirt, grabbed his gun and vest, and left. He hurried to his room, showered and put on a clean uniform, then headed to the Security office to start his shift at 6:30.
Adam’s day partner, Jeff, had just arrived and was brewing a fresh pot of coffee. “Man, that smells good,” Adam commented as he slid into one of the chairs in front of the surveillance monitors.
“Yeah, I’m a piece of crap without my morning coffee,” Jeff joked as he poured a cup. “Want some?”
“Yeah, thanks, man.” Adam took the cup.
“So, how was the old lady’s dinner party last night?” Jeff teased. “I heard you were an invited guest. How’d you pull that one off?”
“Oh, she told me she just wanted to show her appreciation for what I do for her.”
Jeff snickered. “So what do you do for her?”
“Knock it off, wise-ass. Listen, why don’t you take the floor today and I’ll take surveillance.”
“You hate surveillance.”
“I know, but I’m tired and it should be a quiet day.”
“Okay, but let me know if you get too bored and I’ll switch with you later.”
“Ten-four, good buddy.”
Adam settled back in his chair and laid his gun on the counter in front of him as Jeff headed out of the office. He actually loved surveillance, savored the sense of omniscience as he watched over the row of monitors by which he could keep track of almost every part of the large hotel complex. But this morning he paid special attention to the eleventh and twelfth floor hallways. What happened there would determine his next move.
For the next thirty minutes or so he sat back in the chair, nodding off now and then, but never for more than a few seconds at a time, always mindful of any new movement on the monitor screens. Suddenly he caught sight of Conrad headed from Victoria’s suite to the elevator. “Well, what do ya know?” he snickered to himself. “Looks like the old gal can still put out.”
A few moments later, he saw Fatima heading down her eleventh floor hallway to the elevator. He sat up straight, waiting to confirm what he was hoping for, and in a few moments he saw Fatima leaving the elevator on the twelfth floor and heading for the door of Victoria’s suite.
He paged Jeff.
“Yeah, what’s up?” Jeff responded.
“I can’t believe this, buddy, but my freakin’ dentist just called. I broke a tooth a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been on their waiting list to get it fixed. They just called to say they’ve got an opening if I can get there right away.”
“Go ahead, man,” Jeff urged. “I can cover while you’re gone.”
“Thanks, buddy. I owe ya one. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“Take your time.”
Adam stood up, pulled on his vest and grabbed his gun off the counter as he felt the adrenaline of the hunt kicking in. “Fasten your seatbelts, ladies,” he muttered, “we’re goin’ for a ride.”
By John S. Bis
Conrad looked at this watch as he left Victoria’s suite of rooms. It was just before 9:00 a.m. He tried to shake himself into a more wakeful state, realizing that his two hours of sleep on the couch, holding Victoria in his arms, would have to do. He had finally given her a kiss and covered her with a blanket, leaving her there snuggled down, still in last night’s silk dress. She had looked so lovely and, he supposed, they both could have undressed and gone off to bed but it just felt so natural, after all these years, to sit side by side, she in his arms, and talk the night away. They both knew there would be many days for more intimate expressions of their rekindled love.
He walked down the corridor of the 12th floor toward the suite Victoria had arranged for his stay. He went in and immediately called down to room service, requesting coffee, toast and scrambled eggs with sausage. He was told it would be about 30 minutes for it to be delivered so he immediately undressed and took a fast shower and then changed into casual khaki trousers and sport shirt. He then started a series of telephone calls, stopping only to let in room service and to hurriedly eat his breakfast.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the 12th floor corridor, Fatima stood quietly waiting. Her repeated doorbell rings on Victoria’s apartment suite went unanswered. After several more minutes of waiting she started toward the elevator only to almost bump into a hotel employee pushing a food cart from a side hallway. The employee kept his head down and mumbled some apology. Fatima stopped briefly and watched as he went in the direction opposite to Victoria’s apartment. As her elevator arrived and she got in a sudden dawning of recognition hit her. That was Adam Krueger pushing the food cart! What is he doing on Victoria’s floor in that disguise? Instead of going back to her room on 11 she pushed the button for the main lobby.
~ <> ~
Victoria, still on the couch and wrapped in the blanket, but now sitting up, had heard the doorbell ringing. But, just prior to the ring, she had gotten off the phone with Conrad, his call awakening her from a sound sleep.
“Good morning, Victoria. I’m sorry to call and awaken you but there is something I want you to do right now. I want you to go to your door and put on the safety bolt. And, until I get back there, I don’t want you to admit anyone to your apartment. Not anyone, OK? I’ve got a few things to do and then I’ll come to your suite. I’ll call from my cell phone when I’m at your door.”
“Conrad, what’s this about? Have you learned something about who is trying to kill me?”
Conrad then went on to explain to Victoria that he had made several phone calls in the last hour to friends still active in police work. What he learned, while not very substantial given such a short time, caused him to be extra cautious. He wasn’t sure what was going on but it was enough to make him suspicious of some of the visitors at last night’s party. “Don’t hesitate to call me here in my room or on my cell phone, the number is 934-2334. Got that?”
Victoria wrote down the number and said she’d do as he asked. She immediately called Jane, her private secretary, telling her she was very tired and that Jane should not come in today, that she could have the day off. Then just as she hung up the phone from that call, she heard the doorbell ring. She sat there unable to move. Finally, after several rings it stopped. Victoria, still wrapped in the blanket, carefully stepped across the room and put the safety latch on the door. She then retreated to her bedroom suite and closed and locked that door too.
~ <> ~
Fatima got off the elevator in the lobby and walked to the reception desk.
“Hi, I’m Fatima Coulombe, I’m staying in 1109. Would you ask Adam Krueger, of your security staff, if I could see him for just a few minutes.”
“Certainly, Miss Coulombe, I’ll call him.” The clerk picked up the phone, dialed. “Hi, this is Janet at the desk, is this Adam?” A pause, then, “Oh, OK, thanks.” Janet turned to Fatima and said, “I’m sorry, it seems Mr. Krueger had some sort of emergency and has gone off to see a dentist. May I leave a message for him?”
“Uh, sure, just ask him to give me a call in my room when he returns. Thanks.” Fatima gave the clerk a quick smile and turned around and headed toward the elevators thinking, what the hell is Adam up to? I’m sure that was him pushing that food cart up on 12. When the elevator arrived she was surprised to see Conrad Stapleton when the door opened. He too seemed surprised to see her standing there.
Stepping out of the elevator and extending his hand, Conrad said, “Ah, hello again. I’m Conrad Stapleton, I met you last evening at Victoria Delmar’s party.”
Fatima stepped back from the elevator and shook Conrad’s hand, and with some nervousness said, “Yes, we did meet last night at the party and we did meet earlier, didn’t we, on the flight from Buffalo to Atlanta? I’m Fatima Coulombe.”
“Of course, that’s why you seemed so familiar. How silly of me, you actually moved me up to first class on that flight. I don’t fly very well and am always so nervous. That seems to even impair my memory. Yes, you were so nice to me. Thank you.”
“Oh, you’re welcome.”
Conrad paused then said, Miss Coulombe, if you aren’t in a great rush I’d like to talk with you for a few minutes. Would you like to have a cup of coffee with me? I mean here in the hotel, in the restaurant.”
Fatima was hesitant but said, “OK, but only if you call me Fatima.”
“Great, and I’m Conrad.” He put his hand on her elbow and moved with her in the direction of the restaurant area.
After they had settled with their coffees at a small table next to the center garden area Conrad said, “I’m not sure this is the best way to start but, well, the direct approach is probably best. I’m very curious about two things. First, how did you get invited to Victoria’s party and, second, how well do you know the fellow you were with last night?”
Fatima, who had just taken a sip of coffee, slowly put her cup down. “That certainly is direct and to the point but, before I answer your questions, you have to answer two of mine. They also are direct. First, who are you? Second, why do you care about my invitation or my friend?
“Fair enough. Victoria Delmar and I go way, way back. You could say we were childhood sweethearts that became separated for many years and suddenly have found each other again.”
Conrad paused and took a drink of coffee. Fatima sensed he was deciding what he should say next.
He continued, “And the “suddenly” aspect of our finding each other again is because Victoria, who apparently had someone track me down, contacted me. She said she need help with a personal problem. So here I am.” Again he paused before looked Fatima directly in her eyes and said, “And I believe your friend may be part of Victoria’s personal problem.”
“Oh, so you think . . . “ She stopped and looked down at her coffee cup. Then, looking off somewhere beyond Conrad said, “I see things a lot clearer now than I did just a few minutes ago. I wondered about you and your relationship to Victoria. In fact, earlier, I went to her suite to talk with her but she wasn’t there. I . . . “
Conrad interrupted her saying, “Oh, I’m sure she was there. I told her not to answer the door for anyone but me.”
“Why? Do you really think someone is trying to kill her?”
“Kill her, why would you think some is trying to kill her?”
Fatima clearly became flustered. “I didn’t mean that . . . I, just, well telling her not to answer the door . . . clearly you think she’s in some sort of danger.”
Conrad kept looking straight at Fatima. “So, tell me, how did you get invited to last night’s party?”
“Adam, Adam Krueger said he was invited and he asked me to go along.”
“And how do you know Adam?”
“He attended on of my group sessions about two months ago. Afterwards he introduced himself and, well, he’s asked me out to lunch a couple of times. He’s not one of my clients and there’s nothing serious between us.”
“Group session? Client?”
“Oh, I’m a clinical psychologist. I specialize in working with people who have various phobias.”
“Phobias, like a fear of flying?”
“Exactly, in fact that is one of my areas of special interest. In a way I suppose that is what brought you to my attention at the airport. I spotted your nervousness right off.”
“I’ll be damned. And I thought I was . . .” Conrad’s cell phone rang and interrupted his sentence. “Excuse me.” He pulled the phone from his pocket. “Conrad.” He listened. “What? OK, calm down, I’m on my way. I’ll be there in two minutes.” He got up and began to run for the bank of elevators. He shouted back to Fatima, “That was Victoria. Someone is pounding on her door insisting to be let in, telling her it is an emergency. Go to the desk and tell them to send security up to the 12th floor. Now!”
Fatima got up and rushed toward the reception desk. As she ran she couldn’t help but wonder if someone from security was, in fact, already on the 12th floor.
By Mike Miller
Momentary darkness, then light. A few people are visible, more become apparent over the next few seconds, eye adjusting continues.
The screen shows:
Please complete part 1 of the questionnaire. At the end of the movie, we will ask you to complete part 2. Thank you for joining our A FEAR OF FLYING focus group. The movie will resume in 20 minutes. Free Refreshments are available in the lobby.
Then the theater lights are turned on.
There are about 70 people in the focus group, looks like 20’s through 70’s, more women than men.
Most of the people remain in their seats, completing the questionnaire. Some leave for the restrooms or the refreshments.
I stay behind, pondering the movie to this point. I acknowledge not being a great movie fan, but the refreshments attracted my interest. I’m one of those people who can see a movie several times, and still not remember much of it.
Anyway, I answer the pick-one section easily. Most of my answers are 5 out of 9.
Now the essay section (as it was called in my school days, I wonder what they call it today).
When did your interest pique?
I found the first episode to be quite engaging, hopefully setting a backdrop for what was to come.
How real do the characters feel?
Well, there seem to be a lot of characters, but more importantly, there seems to be too many coincidences and coincidental relationships.
How do you feel about the story in general?
See my answer above.
As I’m answering the questions, I detect movement across the aisle, to my right, a cluster of people whispering, gesturing, pointing to each other, and occasionally to one member, sitting on the far side. What’s this all about? I can make out only limited portions of the conversation. Names are mentioned, they sound like Conrad, Adam, Fatima, Vicky. But I’m not sure. Seems like these folks really got into this movie, far more than I did.
Sounds like they’re arguing about the answers to the questionnaire!
Good for them, I was never one for movies anyway, they’re a fiction, at best an attempt in reconstructing history, but more likely a prejudiced view.
Is someone copying the answers of another?
I standup, walk up and down the aisle, ostensibly to stretch, but actually to move closer, so I can hear the conversation better.
This feels like a Twilight Zone episode, the people are using the names of the actors in the movie, and seem to resemble the actors – maybe these are the actors attending a screening. This whole scenario feels a little troubling.
Then the discussion gets more animated, shoving, swearing, throwing popcorn and drinks. And the discussion has gone beyond the movie we’ve seen so far. A stocky usher walks down the aisle, observes the situation, and leaves.
Must be the actors – they know the script.
But then, I wonder. Maybe this movie is based on real-life, and these are the prototypes, the real-life characters.
Feels like one of those mirrors to infinity exhibits, a mirror in front and one in back, and you can see into forever. Like the mirror room at the Albright-Knox.
A shot rings out. One of the people slumps, then falls to the floor. Nobody seems alarmed, no one takes action, no one rushes to aid the victim, no one runs to get help, no one makes a cell-phone call.
The victim was seated on the aisle near me, an older lady, gray hair, dressed prim and proper. I don’t see any blood. She seems to be moving, not making any sounds, at least not that I can hear above the general noise from the group.
The theater lights flash three times.
The group continues its ranting, no attention paid to the victim.
The theater lights go dim.
The victim resumes her seat.
The movie resumes.
By John S. Bis
It was 45 minutes later and I was leaving the theater when I ran into Ron Carlson, the entertainment editor for the local paper. Ron lives across the street from me but I rarely see him except to wave if our riding mowers simultaneously pass through our front yards on Sunday afternoons.
“Hey, Ron, funny not seeing you on your Toro.”
“Yeah, but I do have to get out every so often and actually see what I review. But, what are you doing here at the local film festival? I thought you didn’t like films.”
“I don’t but my wife’s brother is somehow involved with this one and we’re going to a party at their house next Saturday. She thought I should see “Fear of Flying” so I could make nice party talk.”
“I’m interested, will you?”
“Let’s just say that I’ll try and be polite but the film is pretty much crap!”
“That’s pretty much what I thought but when you read my review in Wednesday’s paper I’ll use other words. I was disappointed to say the least. That group, LWG Productions, has done some nifty stuff in the past, mostly radio drama. Good stuff too. I particularly liked their series called, uh, ‘The Computer Theft.’”
“’The Computer Case,” I heard that too. It was good.”
“So you listen to radio too? Maybe there’s a resurgence of creative story telling in that medium. I should write about that.”
“Yeah, the listening has gotten easier since you can download a lot of stuff to your computer. But, let me ask you, what the hell was all that commotion during intermission?”
“Oh, that was a poorly executed attempt at getting some publicity for the film. It didn’t work out very well.”
“Probably my jerk of a brother-in-law’s idea.”
“Well, it backfired. The theater manager told me that all it did was creative the image of a rowdy theater and left a mess for his staff to clean up. He is really pissed and said he was going to send a letter to the editor of the local paper apologizing for the ruckus and saying he’s banning LWG Productions from future shows.”
“Hey, that bit of information will really give me a conversation piece at Saturday’s party.”
“But, back to the film, what did you think of the ending?”
“You know, it confused me. Did the old lady, what’s her name, cut her abandoned daughter out of the will or not?”
“Yeah. Once she found out about her daughter’s involvement with the guy that threatened to kill her . . . “
Glancing at a small notebook in his hand Ron says, “Adam Krueger.”
“Right. I mean, did the daughter make a convincing argument that she was only a casual friend of Krueger? What do you think?”
Ron flips a couple of pages in the notebook. “My sense is that it was up to Victoria’s what shall I call him, long-ago-boyfriend, Conrad. Was he convinced? I’ll have to think about that a bit more. If he was convinced then the daughter, um, Fatima, stays in the will, if not she’s up the creek.”
“OK, but what if Conrad and Victoria marry. Then they’d be cutting off their daughter. Would they really do that?”
By this time the two of them had moved well down the sidewalk from the theater entrance and well out of the way of the others exiting. Ron looked back at the entrance and said, “I think you’ll have to wait until you read my column on Wednesday. Right now I’ve got to go back and take a look at the audience survey results. I’ll need some pro and con comments for my column.”
“Oh, so I’m left in suspense, huh? What, you guys don’t sell enough papers you got to make me buy one too?”
“You should be a subscriber but I can’t tell you what I think because right now I’m not sure. I still don’t have a good sense about the way the film left Conrad’s character. I’m not sure what I understand from the ending. Was Conrad insisting on a DNA check on Fatima to see if he is the father? Or was he doing that to determine if she really is Victoria’s daughter? And was his behavior really the cause behind Victoria starting to distance herself from him. Maybe they really weren’t meant for each other.”
“That’s something I hadn’t thought about, but now that you mention it, I can see the possibility of their separation. That final scene was ambiguous.”
At this point Ron waves his notebook in the air. “Hey, Mike, gotta run. I need to take a look at those viewer surveys. Maybe next time our mowers sight each other let’s shut down and spend some time over a beer.”
“Yeah, good idea.”
Ron starts to walk back toward the theater and says with a big grin, “Take care and happy movie viewing.”
Mike shouts after him, “I don’t think so! I’m hoping my brother-in-law sticks to his school teaching and I’m permanently off the hook for movie going.”
Ron waves and disappears into the theater entrance. Mike turns and joins the crowd heading for the parking lot.
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