Today's Reading

"Whoa—slow it down there, sir."

"Sorry." Arnie regrouped and kept walking. The young airport cop reached out for Arnie's suitcase, but Arnie snatched it away and held it up to his chest.

"I'm going to need to see that, sir."

Arnie just stared at the slim mocha face of the young man, unable to form any words. He tried to move to the left, but the guard sidestepped him and blocked his way. His voice stayed calm and smooth. "Sir, is everything all right?"

"What?" Arnie wasn't sure what was happening. Stars were bursting in his peripheral vision. He felt sick, as if he might throw up.

"I said, is everything all right?" The guard's eyes narrowed slightly with suspicion, but Arnie had trouble keeping eye contact. He couldn't focus. The walls of the airport baggage claim began to breathe and warp. "Yeah. Everything is fine." Arnie struggled to stay in the moment—to focus. "What?" he said. "What do you want?" He stood as still as he could while he tried to form the right words but Arnie's gut instinct was to run—to just bolt for the doors. He probably would have, too, but he couldn't get his feet to move.

"I need to see your claim ticket?"

"My what?"

The young guard's voice sounded like a distant, untuned car radio. "Your claim ticket, sir. For your luggage." That time Arnie made out the request through the static in his head. He relaxed a little—barely—and looked down at his hand. He was still holding the crumpled slip of paper—and his phone. He hadn't ended the last call. William was still waiting on the line. That grounded Arnie in reality.

Why hadn't the little weirdo hung up?

Still fighting the voice in his head telling him to just cut loose and run, but better equipped now to move his limbs, Arnie set the suitcase down at his feet, handed the airport security guard the claim ticket, and held the phone to his ear.

"Willie, are you still there?"

"Yes."

"I gotta go. I'm going to hang up now. Just stay put. When you're done there, go with Bobby and wait. I'll call you back."

"I'm hungry, Arnie."

"Well, eat something, then—shit," Arnie blurted into the phone, before ending the call and slipping it into his back pocket. William might've been his meal ticket, but he drove Arnie crazy with all his weird shit. Arnie looked at the young black man in the uniform with all the disgust he felt for his little brother and Bobby. He was feeling better, his paranoia subsiding, leaving his body like an apparition. He even smiled a little. "Are we good here or what?"

The security guard carefully inspected the sweat-soaked ticket and matched it to the sticker on the handle of Arnie's suitcase. He handed the ticket back to him. His eyes were bright green. Arnie wasn't sure why he noticed that.

"How about it, Smokey? Can I go now?"

That crack didn't sit well with the young guard, but he was used to stupid white people at the airport. He took a slow breath and answered almost robotically. "Yes. You're free to go. Is there anything I can help you with? Do you need directions to the cab stand or the car-rental area?"

Arnie ignored him and grabbed the suitcase. He was already making for the sliding glass doors leading to the sunlit outside world. Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw the guard talking into his radio—or maybe he didn't. He didn't care. All Arnie Blackwell knew was that he wanted the hell out of that place—and now he was.


Arnie didn't fully relax during the entire cab ride—even when he made a quick stop by the post office on Gaston Road to get the package Bobby had mailed to their prearranged PO box.

At least that pothead sack of shit didn't screw that up.

Arnie's anxiety melted away even further, like a layer of liquefied fat, once he tore open the package marked up with Bobby's handwriting and saw the five disassembled pieces of the Sig Sauer—each component bundled neatly in bubble wrap and all perfectly surrounded by a small sea of foam packing peanuts. 'Potheads,' he thought. 'Everything they do is like a high school science project.' Arnie let loose a small giggle thinking about Bobby carefully premeasuring the tape, wrapping each piece, and tucking each one into the box along with one magazine and individually wrapped bullets. Arnie shook his head. He pictured Bobby standing at the counter of the post office carefully tapping no to the questions listed on the keypad for the clerk.

Anything liquid, fragile, or combustible?

"Nope."

Any lithium batteries?

"Nope."
...

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