Saturday, September 22, 2007
"Fraterfamilias" by Peter Ferrer (pseudonym for Judith Doloughan and Paula R. Stiles)
Twenty minutes after Air France Flight 008 from Paris landed safely in New York at JFK Airport, the passenger from seat 7G walked through Gate 9, heading toward U.S. Customs. He looked ordinary--tall and rangy with Celtic features, wearing a turtleneck sweater and jeans. His curly dark hair was shot with grey. He held a black carryall with an overnight bag slung from one shoulder and a dark-blue winter jacket draped over his other arm. There was nothing remarkable about him, as the security tapes would later show.
He collected no baggage from the carousel. Having nothing to be suspicious about, the Customs official stamped his passport and passed him through without incident. The passenger stopped to buy a map at a news kiosk. Instead of walking through the automatic doors onto the sidewalk, he turned back into the main concourse, going straight to the baggage storage area. He found an empty locker, pushed the two bags into it, piled his coat on top and closed the door. Pulling the key out of the slot, he walked casually toward some benches where other sleepless travelers were drinking coffee, smoking and reading--trying to stay awake.
He chose a seat next to a large potted palm, in plain view of the door. Opening the map, he laid it at the base of the palm and leaned over to re-tie his shoelaces. He sat up and began to study the map.
It was 9:44 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on the last Saturday in March.
James "Jazz" Harper loved the night shift. Being in charge of Airport Security amused him during those hours when human beings were at their lowest ebb and the weirdoes were sleeping it off somewhere else. Peace and quiet were fine with him. He'd had his fifteen minutes of fame as a running back with the most rushing yards in one season during his last year of college. Being black and somebody sure beat the hell out of being black and nobody, but he didn't mind his retirement. He had a nice little nest egg, a good job and still-reasonably-good knees. Now, he just liked sitting in the main security office, watching the human parade march across his screens.
At times, however, the job got too dull even for him. When the call came, it made his night--at first. Paul Michel Farrell, a French citizen wanted for a multiple murder in Paris. Requests for assistance from law enforcement weren't unusual.
As soon as the fax with the mug shot came through, Pete Grant, Harper's balding right-hand man, set about getting the word out to the boys on the floor from his usual post in the control seat at the bank of computers and monitors. Harper called for backup from Port Authority. A SWAT team with a couple of marksmen just seemed like a good precaution. Harper gave the orders for the well-rehearsed sequence of operations, with the repeated message that this was not a drill. By the time Grant reported back to Harper, all entrances and exits to Terminal 1 were closed off, although the average bystander would have noticed nothing unusual.
"AF 008 landed at twenty-one hundred hours exactly, five minutes ahead of schedule," Harper said half to himself as he read over the fax again. "He's already been on the ground forty minutes plus. The booking clerk in Paris told the cops the guy only had carry-on baggage, which means he didn't have to wait at the carousel. He's had enough time to get through Customs. We're probably already too late." He swore to himself.
Even though the delay had been due to some idiot in the Dispatch Center getting the time difference between Paris and New York wrong, his people would be the ones taking the heat if this guy got away.
"Where did the plane come in?" Grant asked.
Harper set the fax down and squinted at the monitors.
"Gate Nine. You got Terminal One all closed off now?"
"Good. Replay me the tape from that camera."
Grant swiveled back to his control panel. "Coming up." A short series of keyboard strokes brought up the view from the camera on the entrance to Gate Nine.
The gate was deserted, but Harper had expected that. "Download the playback for a half hour ago and let's see if he got off."
Grant chewed on his lip as he obeyed. "Where was he sitting?"
"In 7-G. He's probably in the first bunch off after First Class, if he was on the plane at all."
"Here we go," said Grant as the playback started. The digital clock on the bottom of the screen showed 21:11 EST.
Some sleepy businessmen disembarked first, carrying leather briefcases and laptops, followed by a small group of yawning students and two families with small children. Not one of the emerging faces looked toward the surveillance camera until the twentieth passenger--a man in his mid-forties with a lean build and curly hair, wearing a turtleneck sweater and jeans--glanced directly up and at the camera as he passed beneath it.
"That's him!" Harper said. "Run it back. Where's that picture?"
He snatched up the fax with its mug shot as Grant stopped the tape at the frame in which the passenger was looking straight at them. There was no question. It was him.
"That was twenty-one-twenty," said Harper. "It's twenty-one-forty-five now. There is no way we got it shut down before he got out." He sighed and rubbed his eyes. This was going downhill fast.
Grant gave him a sympathetic look. "We don't know that for sure, Boss. And it's not like they gave us much of a heads up."
Harper leaned forward, scanning the monitors. "The camera at Customs. Let's see what time he came through there."
When they found him again, the digital clock read 21:36 EST. "If we did miss him, it wasn't by much," Grant said. "It's a straight walk to the street from there, maybe thirty seconds, a minute tops, and that's if he wasn't in a hurry."
"Find out what exit he used. Maybe some cabbie saw him."
"Okay." Grant paused, one finger on his headset, listening. "The SWAT team's on its way."
Harper grimaced. "Yeah, yeah. Let's see if we can locate him before they come barreling in here. Try the camera at the nearest exit first."
"Already on it." Grant typed a guesstimated time into the computer and they watched the faces coming toward the glass doors.
"There!" Harper pointed at the monitor. He watched intently as the man approached the doors then turned left into the corridor leading back to the main Terminal One concourse. "Where the hell's he going? What's the time there?"
"Twenty-one-forty. We got the call at twenty-one-fifty-six and everyone was in place in under three minutes. Christ! He may just still be here!"
Harper straightened up, ready to head out the door. "Put out the alert. Tell everybody he may be in the main concourse. If they see him, tell them to keep him in sight but not approach him unless he tries to leave. Got that?"
Grant nodded, tugging at his headset. "On it." He paused, his jaw dropping open. "Boss! I think I got him!"
Harper stared at the monitor in disbelief. "Zoom in." The image on the screen came into sharp focus on one man. It was Farrell, no doubt about that. Harper shook his head and reached for the two-way radio.
"This is Harper. Listen up, everybody," he said into the mike. "We've found him. He's in plain sight on the main concourse, sitting on one of those benches near the newsstand. He's just sitting there. I don't want him freaked out. Who's in charge of the plainclothes unit, over?"
"It's Morris, sir, over." A new voice crackled from the radio.
"Affirmative. Good man. You're looking for a white male in his forties, lean build, dark hair, approximately six-foot-tall, wearing a turtleneck sweater and jeans. No baggage, no coat. Surround him, roust the civilians, then watch him. I want a couple of sharpshooters on the mezzanine. Tell them to stay out of sight until I get there, over." He took off his headset, donned a Kevlar vest and pulled on a jacket over it.
"He's just sitting there like nothing's happening," said Grant, "like he's waiting for something." He clucked and shook his head. "He nearly made it."
Harper shrugged. Who knew what these crazies thought at times like this? "Maybe he doesn't know anything's happening. Maybe he's innocent."
On the mezzanine, Harper found the sharpshooters immediately, out of sight, waiting for instructions. More of his uniformed security men blocked access from the adjoining corridors. Harper risked looking over the railing to count noses. Four plainclothes officers were sitting casually around the target like the four points of a compass. Farrell still sat, now leaning forward, his forearms on his thighs. Morris was standing where he could be seen by both his team and the uniformed men posted out of sight of the target. Harper smiled to himself at how quickly and quietly his team had deployed.
The pride faded into unease. It didn't make any sense. Harper had seen his share of the kind of human beings that gave you nightmares just knowing they were out there. He'd developed an instinct for them, a kind of radar, and it rarely failed him. It was the way they looked, furtive and nervous, ready to run in an instant. They were pushy, anxious to be through the line-ups, shoving little old ladies out of the way to grab their baggage off the carousel. And those were just the small fry.
Then there were the really scary ones--the kind that could murder four people in cold blood and walk away. Normally, he would have staked his reputation that Farrell was just another passenger, travel-weary, glad to be on the ground and thinking about getting to bed. But the fax had said otherwise. If the guy was guilty, why in God's name hadn't he just left the building? It wouldn't be the first time Harper and his team had arrested an innocent man here; of course it wasn't up to them to determine who should be arrested and who got to walk away. Harper's stomach soured. This was one he was going to regret if it went wrong.
He put a hand on the shoulder of the nearest sharpshooter. "No head shots. Interpol wants to talk to him. If it looks like he's going to run, disable him. We don't know he's dangerous; he may even be innocent. Shoot to kill if you absolutely have to, but I will personally chew the ass off any trigger-happy bastard who doesn't go for a limb first. Understood?" The sharpshooter nodded. "Good. I'm going down there to try to talk him into turning himself over to me without a showdown." Harper clicked the safety off his gun, pulled back the slide, returned it to his shoulder holster and rode down to the concourse floor. He approached Farrell from behind, rounded the end of the bench and sat down out of the line of fire.
"Mr. Farrell?" The dark-haired man turned his head, a wistful smile on his face. Later, Harper would remember thinking he had gentle eyes. "I'm James Harper, with the Port Authority Police. We have orders to arrest you and turn you over to Interpol. I'd rather do this the easy way."
Farrell didn't move, just stayed leaning forward with his arms on his thighs. "You run a good operation here, M. Harper," he said. He spoke quietly, in a pleasant accent that sounded French with something else thrown in. "I can only see four plainclothes men and they were very unobtrusive about how they cleared the area. I do not doubt that there is at least one sharpshooter stationed on the mezzanine. I am right?"
Harper was taken aback by the man's calm assessment. "Right on so far, but there are two sharpshooters."
Farrell chuckled. "The age of overkill. I expect that you want me to come quietly with you."
Harper nodded, keeping his hand on his shoulder holster. "Something like that."
"I did do it, you know." Farrell smiled sadly. "I did kill those people. I want you to know that."
Somewhere behind him and overhead, Harper recognized the sound of a rifle slide. Morons! This was the worst possible time for a screw up. Keeping his eyes on Farrell, he shot his free hand up toward the mezzanine. Farrell gave no sign of having heard anything but the sound had been unmistakable and he was already aware of their presence. His lack of fear made Harper uneasy. It usually meant one thing, except that guys this calm about it were usually protecting someone.
"I don't have anything to say to that," Harper said. "You come easy, it'll make a big difference with a judge. Get yourself a good lawyer. You must have thought you had a reason."
Farrell sat up. "A reason does not make it right. I am sorry to disappoint you but I cannot come with you. You should get out of the way."
Harper watched him, alarmed. "You can't get out of here any other way without getting hurt."
"I am aware of that." Farrell stood up and Harper followed suit. "Please move out of the way, M. Harper. I don't wish your death on my soul. Thank you for being kind."
Oh, Christ, this situation was going completely south in a hurry! Harper took a step forward. "Mr. Farrell, my men have orders to shoot to kill." It wasn't true, but he didn't like the look in Farrell's eyes. "They will do it. You won't make it."
"Yes, I suppose that it is. You are a good man." Before Harper could grab him, Farrell strode rapidly away from the bench into the open.
"Farrell!" Harper yelled. Morris and his men dropped the pretense of being onlookers and aimed their weapons at Farrell, arms straight, elbows locked.
"Stop where you are!" Morris shouted.
Farrell kept moving. As he approached Morris, his right hand went to his back at the waist, reaching under his sweater. There was no mistaking the movement.
"Gun!" somebody yelled.
Five shots rang out almost simultaneously. They lifted Farrell off his feet and threw him down hard. As the echoes died away, Harper sprinted to where Farrell lay on his back on the polished floor in an ever-widening pool of blood. While the shooters advanced cautiously on the fallen man, Harper knelt down beside him, ignoring the blood that seeped into his pants. Farrell was still alive. Barely.
"Shit, man! What did you go and do that for?" Harper said, reaching out to the man's head, his own hand big and black against the pale skin. Farrell seemed to be trying to say something. His face contorted; blood bubbled out of his mouth and nose. When he lifted his hand, Harper took it, gripping it as Farrell's body shuddered in pain.
At precisely 10:15 PM, Eastern Standard Time, Paul Michel Farrell closed his eyes and died.
Fraterfamilias by Peter Ferrer (pseudonym for Judith Doloughan and Paula R. Stiles)
Link for the book at Virtual Tales: http://www.virtualtales.com/StoryProducts~tn~Fraterfamilias.html