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Jason Sanford

Minneapolis/St. Paul

Don't falter, Bucky. See that young man on the moving sidewalk-the business suiter with cell phone to ear? Go. Follow ten steps behind him to his departure gate: Chicago, O'Hare, flight 628. Watch Headline News while you sit beside him in those uncomfortable plastic-mold chairs. Mumble to everything the talking TV head says about the war in Afghanistan.

"Excuse me?" the young man will ask.

Say what a shame it is that terrorists can travel across the globe just to kill innocent people. Make up an imaginary brother named Keith. Talk about Keith. Tell how Keith worked on the top of the World Trade Center. Tell about the last phone call Keith made to his pregnant wife-how the phone died before he could finish saying he loved her.

The young man will nod in sympathetic politeness for several minutes before growing bored. Let him then talk of his business, how he's glad it keeps him away from his nagging wife and irritating kids for weeks on end. Ask if they'll be waiting for him to get off at the gate in Chicago. He'll say yes. He will then ask you to watch his bags while he goes to the bathroom.

Slip the two sticks of dynamite and fake detonator into his carry-on. Wish him well on his flight home. Leave an anonymous tip with the FBI. Tell them to stop search flight 628 to Chicago for a business-suit man, cell phone in his ear, a bomb in his carry-on.

Bucky Guisman had been a Delta pilot for fifteen years when the DEA busted him in a sting operation. As his lawyer later explained, this had been simple bad luck on Bucky's part-the DEA had been tipped off to pilots smuggling coke, something Bucky never did but which his co-pilot engaged in constantly. When the investigation pointed to either Bucky or his co-pilot, the DEA agent in charge flipped a coin. Bucky became the first to get approached.

When the undercover agent offered him 50 grand for one day's work, Bucky said no. But laying in bed that night a dream-a vision-brought the monotony of his life to bear. He relived ten mediocre years flying air force cargo plane, his decade and a half of day-to-days on Delta's Atlanta to Miami route. Bucky called that undercover agent and said he'd do it. I'm just doing it for the thrill, he told himself. Swore to God that he'd donate any money he made to charity.

The judge and jury snickered when Bucky testified to that on the stand. Their derision made him wonder if people were so far gone that they couldn't see the need for excitement, any excitement, in their lives.

Bangkok, Thailand

Ignore the heat, Bucky. See that young backpacker sleeping beside the glass-dividing wall? Trip over her outstretched legs as you settle into a bench beside her. As the woman wakes, you will excuse yourself, then proceed to talk about how the air conditioning in the airport can't handle the heat of this country.

The woman will nod, still in a sleepy daze. She will begin talking about the hill tribe trek she just finished, about how she actually smoked a pipe of opium with the tribe's headman. Don't ask her how many times a week that headman smokes opium with tourist groups. Don't ask about the headman's junkie son, now begging foreigners for alms behind the village in his second-hand Metalica t-shirt.

Pull the flier out of your pocket-English one side, Thai the other. Tell her how the flier is being put out by a dissident group that wants to save the poor in Thailand. Say that abolishing poverty is the only way to prevent a new generation of terrorists from being reared to hate the new world order. Point out the discrepancy between the King of Thailand and those in who live in the Bangkok slums.

The girl will grow excited about this. She will dream that she can be a revolutionary. When she asks if there is anything she can do, tell her she can distribute a stack of fliers at her college back in America. Tell her nothing can be done unless westerners get involved.

Give her a hundred fliers and say goodbye. Just around the glass divider, show the last flier you have to a policeman. Say, in the broken Thai you've memorized, that the foreign girl over there is handing out fliers calling on the overthrow of the Thai monarchy. Say the girl knows it's a crime but she's not afraid of the Thai police-after all, she's a arrogant American white girl. They're not afraid of anyone.

After Bucky got out of prison, no major airline would hire him. Instead, he found work at a supplemental air carrier. The company flew cargo to wherever it was told, changed its name every six months as it continually went bankrupt or was taken over by other unknown companies. At first this unnerved Bucky, but he soon learned that no matter what happened to the air carrier, when he walked in the front door his job would always be there.

At first Bucky suspected the company was a front for drug dealers or terrorists, but he soon found that the planes carried nothing illegal. Once, during a custom's check, he went inch by inch through his plane with the very same DEA agent who'd busted him years ago. They talked like old war buddies, laughed about the intelligence of smugglers and the stupidity of drug users and politicians. The agent actually believed Bucky's reason for doing his smuggling while at Delta. The agent had known Bucky was being screwed, but said there was little he could do once the government got hold of someone.

Bucky flew to different destinations each week for the air carrier-India, Australia, Angola. Bucky never grew bored with the job. At each airport, while his plane was loaded or unloaded, he'd wander the gates and observe the people coming and going-people oblivious to the life around them.

That's how He'll get you, Bucky thought. That's just how He'll get you.

Bogota, Columbia

Don't try to actually see the Bogota airport. It just full of impatient people-unhappy, tired, wanting to be elsewhere. Buy a local beer-Club Colombia-and one of those upside down miniature liquor bottles, which pretty women with push carts sell to stranded customers.

Go to the tax-free shopping section of the international terminal. Ignore the curios-leather products, coffee, the Pre-Columbian gold jewelry replicas. Stand beside the woman in a black dress. Say that everything is much more expensive than she would pay outside the airport.

The woman will thank you. Tell her that Bogota is 2600 meters 'closer to the stars,' as they say. This means big mushroom clouds and mountains outside the airport's picture windows will give her a beautiful flight as she leaves.

She will tell you that she is not leaving. Instead, she just arrived and is waiting to be picked her up. You will notice that she has been crying but is now too irritated for tears. Tell her it is better to sit down when waiting for people. Take her to a window bench beneath the giant picture window so she can better see the pretty clouds.

She will then tell you about her husband, a missionary pilot who was shot down by the Colombian Air Force because the CIA mistakenly identified his plane as that of a terrorist weapon smuggler. She is here to claim his body.

Sympathize with the woman. Find out that she is a devout Christian, like her husband, and often joined him on his trips. She only avoided his final flight because she broke her big toe as they'd been leaving for the airport. This made her husband miss his flight. Made him be a week behind schedule. Made him fly at night in Colombia even with the CIA out there looking for suspicious flights.

Give the woman a hug and say that her husband is a hero. Offer her one of your drinks. She doesn't drink but will still take the upside-down liquor bottle and sip it tenderly.

As you sit there, backlit by winds and water vapor building into a massive thunderhead, point out the many rich Colombians who throng the airport. Say that these people believe they are intrinsically superior to poor people. Talk about their designer clothes, pushiness, how they smoke indoors and refuse to wait in lines like everybody else. Tell the woman her husband died for the real people of Colombia. The poor of Columbia.

As the woman once again cries, give her a list of the CIA operatives who directed that her husband's plane be shot down. Give her the name of the rebels who will kill the operatives-if she simply supplies them with the list of CIA names.

That is enough temptation. Give her a big Christian hug as you leave.

After working for five years with the changing-name air cargo company, Bucky developed prostate cancer. The company nurse discovered the growth during a physical, said Bucky needed to see a specialist immediately.

The cargo company didn't offer health insurance but Bucky figured he'd shoot for the operation anyway. It meant an extra ten years of work to pay off the credit card bills, but this was the big one. He knew if he didn't try then what was the point of anything?

He maxed out ten credit cards paying for the hospital bills. As he recuperated in his Miami trailer park home, the first of the credit card statements arrived. Bucky opened it, found that the balance had been paid off. The same with every other statement that arrived.

His boss at the cargo company called the payments a delayed health plan. "Besides," she added, "it's about time for our annual chapter thirteen."


Ignore the loud, broadcast speaker voice that says, "As you go through security, please place all metal objects in the slots located next to each metal detector."

You will stand in line for the metal detector behind a grandfather in a nice staid suit. He is alone and holds a large bouquet of roses for the funeral he is flying to attend. He was not invited to the funeral, but is going anyway.

Ease up behind him and slip the pistol into his suit pocket.

"Is that really yours?" he will ask without turning around.

Say yes. This will bring more talking as the grandfather feels the shape and coolness of the pistol in his pocket.

"My grandson just blew his brains out playing with a little pistol," he will say. There will only be two people between him and the metal detector, but they aren't listening.

"He was visiting my house. I was in the back cutting the grass when he found the gun." Let the man pause, collect his thoughts as he shifts the roses from hand to underarm. "When my wife was alive we never had a pistol. Thirty years in that same house and no one ever broke in. But with her gone and all the craziness in the world I got afraid. Just bought the damn thing one day. Why did I do that?"

Say that God works in mysterious ways. Follow the grandfather as he moves to next in line for the metal detector. Ask him if he'd like to do something about his grandson.

As you speak, a woman will cut between the grandfather and the metal detector. She is chattering away on her cell phone and dragging a little girl with her. The girl has been crying but the woman doesn't know this.

As the little girl watches, silent, the grandfather will slip the pistol into the woman's coat pocket. The grandfather will put finger to lips, motion that this is a secret between him and the little girl, and then hand the little girl the roses he bought for the funeral. She will love them. No one has ever given her roses. The girl will smile and give back to the grandfather a single rose, a total show of eight-year-old generosity.

As the woman walks through the detector, the alarm will beep loudly. Stepping aside for a detailed search, she will tell the cell-phone that she has to call them right back.

The grandfather will walk through the detector without being stopped, hand you the rose as he smiles. "How's that?" he will ask you as he walks for his plane and the funeral. "Have I done His will?"

But you'll be gone without answering.

Bucky closes the 'authorized personnel only' door, flashes his ID badge at the security guard. The plane he will fly sits on the nearby tarmac. A mechanic recently painted over the company's logo, leaving only a black smudge on wings and tailfin until the cargo company finds a new name.

One of the cargo specialists hands Bucky a clipboard.

"Everything checks out," the guy says as Bucky signs the manifest.

As you sign the manifest, the cargo specialist will nervously watch a small tractor pull a train of luggage carts into a figure eight on the tarmac. The man is not just a cargo specialist. He is also a terrorist, told to get a job here by his unknown bosses. Two years of being a safe little mole, doing nothing suspicious except living and working and going for micro-brew drinks with coworkers.

Today he is supposed to help a bomb get on a plane.

Ask him about his job.

"I love my job," he will say, and this is true. Best two years of his life, which he will also say. What he will not say is that he no longer wants to kill anyone, but he is afraid not to. If he doesn't do as told, the bosses he has never met will kill him.

After detailing the items on the manifest, ask him if there is anything else he needs to attend to. He will shiver, thinking you know what you do indeed know. Do not confirm anything. Simply tell him that God is with him. Offer him the little girl's rose.

When the man's contact arrives and hands him the bomb in a suitcase, the rose will slip from the cargo specialist's pocket into the zipper of the suitcase. As the suitcase is being loaded aboard a plane, the flash of red will catch the eye of a security guard giving everything a final once over. He will x-ray the suitcase and find the bomb. After a massive investigation, the FBI will arrest the entire terrorist ring-with the exception of the cargo specialist, who is mysteriously missed. Forgotten, the specialist will work twenty years in his job before retiring to a condo in Florida.

The cargo specialist waves awkwardly to Bucky as the plane's engines start and Bucky taxis to the main runway.

Godspeed and safe flying.

Godspeed, Bucky says. And thanks.


Jason Sanford's short stories have been published in several book anthologies and literary magazines, including the Mississippi Review, the Beloit Fiction Journal, and READ magazine. In addition to being the winner of a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship, he also edits the literary journal storySouth, which focuses on poetry and fiction by writers from the American south.

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