Benjamin Reynolds - DOC by keara

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									Benjamin Reynolds By John Richter

“Welcome to the Little Rock National Airport, home of America‟s Newest Destination. Little Rock: City Limitless!” Benjamin Reynolds eased through the automatic doors, each one hesitating, then beckoning him in. Today was going to be a good day. He had been chosen to represent the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce at Ayumu International of Japan‟s American headquarters, based in Los Angeles. There, he was going to woo an array of Japanese, American, and Japanese-American business executives to build a manufacturing plant in America‟s Newest Destination. Ayumu International designed and manufactured industrial-grade lubricant and polymer-padding, specially designed to coat and line the inner side of shafts and plates on the outer side of engine component casings and drive trains inside an array of military vehicles— which were especially important in times like these. He made sure to come two and half hours early. “No, no, I can‟t promise I‟ll be there by 9:00. I still have to catch a flight, meet some people in meetings—yes, extra towels and coffee packets too. Thank you.” Benjamin hung up his cell phone. With an electronic hum, the automatic doors slid to a close behind him. He stood contently, reminiscing in the newly renovated cavernous main hall of the airport. As part of the Chamber‟s airport taskforce, he had played a crucial role in updating the building to 21st century standards. Dark, dingy, and plain, the previous shell of the airport was at most functional. It hadn‟t been updated since the 1970s, and there was the neverending worry that its physicality would manifest itself in the milieu of Little Rock. Faded white

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and brown paint was slicked over by professional, yet lively and welcoming, blue, red, and stone-gray paint; dated equipment were superseded by the latest technology the information age had to offer; and smallish straitlaced windows were replaced, along with walls wherein, by gorgeous aqua-green glass at acute angles. The sunlit hall was permeated with the clean, antiseptic smell of electronics, recently squeegeed windows, and purified air. If the future had a smell, Benjamin thought, this was it. “Hello?” he answered his vibrating phone. “Hey, Ben.” “Hey, Judy,” Benjamin said, reproducing her lilt. “What‟s the good news?” Judy was a secretary at the Chamber. “Well,” Judy continued, “the Chamber is really bent on getting this deal to go through…” “—As am I—” “…right, and they have some last minute ideas they asked me to prep you with...” She paused, her pitch suspended as if awaiting confirmation. “Ok,” Benjamin assured. “All right, well we want you to go in with all the tools you need at your disposal. So first off, you‟re looking sharp, right?” He was primmed to perfection. His thick black hair, previously matted and maverick, was now precise and aerodynamic. His tie was perfectly taut, collar perfectly trim, pants perfectly pressed, and suit perfectly fitting. Every garment eked efficiency. “Dress for success,” Benjamin would always remind himself. “As always,” he said. “Great. Red tie and pin?” Judy asked.

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The Chamber liked red: it was bold and sent a message. On his chest stuck a red white and blue lapel pin, in the shape of a folded ribbon. After September Eleventh, it was de facto policy of the Chamber for all employees to wear, especially when in business negotiations. The pin didn‟t necessarily determine the success of the negotiations, but it lent an immediate sense of solidarity and dignity. “Yeah, yeah,” Benjamin said, dodging foot traffic. “Did you make sure to bring the brochures and booklets?” The brochures gave business prospects “interesting” factoids on Little Rock and Arkansas history and culture. More pertinently, they also gave an economic overview, census data, and notable corporate residents. “Maybelline Cosmetics is based in Arkansas?” was usually one of the first questions asked upon seeing the cover page of logos. “Yes,” Benjamin would respond, nodding. “Well, they have a 200,000 square-foot plant here.” He‟d pause. “It‟s state of the art,” he‟d continue with a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders, still nodding slightly. “And we also have the headquarters of companies like Wal-Mart, Alltel, and Dillards,” he‟d include for good measure, physically representing the list on his fingers. “Yeah, I put them in my bag this morning,” Benjamin replied to Judy. “Hey, Judy? I need to find my flight counter. Can you call me back in a few? “Sure. Bye.” “Later.” Through hanging banners and bustling crowds, Benjamin spotted his airline‟s ticket counter. He waded his way through eddying crowds to the neat procession checking-in. It coiled around several black plastic posts and connecting vinyl dividers. He enlisted in line.

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Benjamin felt a peculiar sense of responsibility for the impression the airport gave visitors. It was, after all, the welcoming mat to the state for interstate travelers. And first impressions were important—Benjamin knew that. He examined the line for diversity: eight African Americans, six Hispanics, and even an Asian couple. Not bad for a line of roughly fifty people. Bing. “Your attention please: the National Security Threat Level is orange. Please report any unattended luggage or suspicious activity to law enforcement personnel,” interrupted an immaculately recorded, deep yet feminine voice on the intercom. Benjamin realized that he‟d heard the announcement a few times already on a loop. He shuffled in line when his pocket started to vibrate. “Hello?” He picked up his phone. “Ben!” “Big Dan, my man, how‟s it going?” Benjamin asked. Dan also worked at the Chamber, but he was off today, probably lounging in his recliner. “Good, good. What‟s the good news?” Dan replied. “Well, I‟m just here at the airport, checking in.” “Cool. Hey, did the Chamber call you yet?” “Yeah, why?” Benjamin asked suspiciously. “Well I‟m interested,” Dan said. “This is big. Hey, so I was reading up on the Japanese culture. Apparently the Japanese people are really disciplined and have a strong sense of order.” Dan sounded like he was reading an encyclopedia. “The samurai lived under a code that stressed loyalty, honor, and regimentation.” “Grrreat,” Benjamin replied.

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“Yeah, I know,” Dan continued seriously. “Did you know that sometimes they‟d kill themselves if they felt dishonorable? They called it seppuku.” “Everyone knows about that, Dan. Hey, call me back in a few, I think the Chamber‟s calling again.” He switched conversations with the tap of a button, only hearing the first nonsensical “guh” of Dan‟s goodbye. “Hello?” he answered. “Found your airline?” Judy asked. “Yeah, it‟s all good.” “Great. Is your presentation ready?” “Yep.” The truth was, Benjamin knew why he‟d won the opportunity to pitch to the Japanese. His father was American, but more importantly, his mother was Indonesian. As a half Asian, he had indiscriminate features that allowed him to pass for either each race individually or all races at the same time. He wasn‟t sure which, or if it even mattered. As a result, Benjamin had become the chamber‟s go-to guy for almost all minority related business endeavors, Asian or not. In recent years, he‟d played a particularly important role in the growing Hispanic business segment in Arkansas. And now, with the ever growing presence of Japanese manufacturing plants in the midsouth, he was past due for appointment with a Japanese executive. “And it stresses our „Friendly, Natural Environment for Business,‟ right?” Judy asked. Arkansas is the Natural State. “You betcha.” “Next please,” a lady at the counter called. Benjamin realized he had made it through the line. He walked to the counter and gave a wide smile to the ticket agent.

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“Excellent, do you mind giving me a brief overview?” Judy asked. “Sure, one sec,” Benjamin said to the phone. He mechanically pulled out his wallet and ID for the lady behind the counter. The ticket agent paused, observed his attire, then shot an instant approving smile. “Well, I‟m going to go through the usual spiel,” Benjamin continued to Judy haltingly. “I‟m going to go through our unique history. Talk about how we were initially settled by hardy, independent-minded Scots-Irish in the disagreeable terrain of the Arkansas Ozarks…” Benjamin juggled his cell phone conversation with the ticket agent‟s oft-recited preamble of questions. Can I see your I.D.? Where are you heading? Traveling alone? Have any perishable food, fragile items, firearms…? Benjamin answered, smiled, and politely shook or nodded his head on cue. She granted him his boarding pass in return. “Then I‟m going to talk about how this deep-rooted sense of friendliness, independence, and freedom pervades all Arkansas culture,” Benjamin continued brokenly. “Now sir, have you flown since we upgraded our security standards?” the ticket agent inquired more seriously. It seemed the airport had enhanced security protocol several times over the years. Benjamin shook his head. The ticket agent proceeded to give him a rundown of new changes in procedure actuated over the past few months. “And how, for example, we are a „right-to-work‟ state. It‟s even in our state constitution. No forced unionism here.” The phrase was code for cheap labor and crucial to the presentation. The ticket agent ended by leaning over the counter and pointing to a new behemoth of a machine in the distance to Benjamin‟s left. Benjamin smiled graciously and headed toward the contraption, suitcase tugging along.

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“Finally, I‟m going to end with the clincher: „Arkansas: a natural for business.‟” It was a well-known economic motto in the state. “Yes! Perfect!” Judy lauded. “Now another thing, we‟ve been googling Japanese culture and talking to some experienced business execs here at the Chamber, and apparently it‟s custom to give gifts during business meetings.” “Ok…” Benjamin paced towards the baggage check-in machine through the roving crowds. His normally fickle gaze couldn‟t escape its size. It was cube-like with beveled edges and relatively indistinct, uniform features, like a giant Fisher-Price toy. The only noticeable depression or extension of any sort was its black gaping mouth and rubbery filtering baleen. The contraption dwarfed the beefy security worker, who dwarfed Benjamin. “So,” Judy proceeded, “we‟d like you to stop by the gift shop and pick up some Arkansas-related gifts—we‟ll reimburse you. Specifically, try to pick up something nicer. They might get offended if it‟s something more trivial.” “Gotcha. There‟s a gift shop past the security checkpoint. You want me to go there?” Benjamin asked merely for confirmation. “That‟s the one. So everything‟s running smoothly?” she asked. “Everything‟s peachy keen so far.” “Good. Well we‟ll keep you updated with our developments. Right now some of us are trying to look up information on your competitors for the plant.” Benjamin assumed they‟d encounter the usual suspects: Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana among others. his suitcase to the security personnel and ascended the escalator. “Sounds good,” he replied. “All right, bye. Good luck.” He handed

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“Bye.” He stuffed his cell phone back in his pocket. Benjamin saw the serpentine waiting line at the security checkpoint in the distance. It overflowed and choked, as expected. Benjamin had heard that new security measures had lengthened airport wait times considerably, so he was evermore tickled by his clever decision to come two and half hours early. He calmly filed to the end of the line, which clogged the entrance to the only terminal at Little Rock National Airport. The terminal amounted to a wide hallway interspersed with coves—airport gates and occasional restaurants and stores—jutting out unnaturally. There were twelve gates in all—suitably and simply named gates one through twelve. Quite honestly, the fact that Little Rock only had one terminal slightly embarrassed Benjamin. Even Jackson, Mississippi, had two—not to mention places like Tulsa or Birmingham. In addition, the heightened security and expanding population base were pushing the terminal beyond its 1970‟s-era limits. Benjamin assured himself that he‟d fix this source of strife some day. At one point, the airport‟s name, too, had been a source of chagrin. In years past, it was referred to as the Little Rock Municipal Airport, but in an increasingly globalized world, “municipal” sounded too regionalistic and closed off. Now it was more dignifiedly referred to as a “national” airport, although even this was somewhat embarrassing considering that Birmingham and Jackson called themselves “international,” despite having no international flights. Benjamin slowly began to filter through the layers of connecting black posts. He shuffled restlessly, and began to examine people in the line again. Most were locals, probably visiting relatives in other cities.

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His phone buzzed. He glanced at its LED display. “Hey, Dan,” Benjamin said. “Hey. So what‟s the good news?” Dan asked excitedly. “What are you talking about?” Benjamin intoned. He sensed people eyeing him. “What do you mean „what are you talking about‟? What‟s going on with the Chamber? What‟s going on in general?” “Oh right. Well, the Chamber wants me to go buy an Arkansas gift for the presentation. They said I should try to make it nice,” Benjamin said. His stomach started to growl with hunger; coming early had a price. “Yeah gifts,” Dan answered, “I just read about that. Great idea. The Japanese people call it omiyage.” He paused. “So what are you getting?” “I don‟t know exactly, I‟m gonna have to check the place out,” he said detachedly, observing his surroundings. Overall, this waiting line seemed more homogenous than the one at the ticket counter. He did notice, however, a Hispanic couple joining the line two rows behind him. “Right, right,” Dan agreed. “Hey, I know! Get them the Clinton bobble-head doll! They‟ll love that!” Benjamin audibly chuckled, cutting sharply into the crowd‟s general ambience. “I can‟t do that. It has to be nice; something more serious.” “Oh come on, man. The Japanese people are not all work and business. Have you never heard of Nintendo?” “Nintendo??? Dan, Nintendo does not equal Japan. And stop saying „the Japanese People,‟” Benjamin said grinning and pantomiming into his phone. Softly, yet firmly, he

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corrected, “They are Japanese.” He did a quick glance around to see if there were any Asians nearby who heard him. “Well I‟m just saying, people like bobble-head dolls and people like Clinton. It‟s a winwin situation. Win plus win equals…” Dan stopped. Benjamin waited. “Super-win,” Dan finished. “Shuuutup,” Benjamin replied. “Actually, it‟s really not that bad of an idea. But I‟ll need to get them something nice too.” Now that he thought of it, he wasn‟t sure how many gifts he needed to get. “Getch your IDs and boarding passes out and ready, ladies and gentleman,” interposed a pudgy, grandstanding airport employee about halfway down the line. Dressed in a maroon vest and khakis, he seemed lower ranked than the personnel at the checkpoint, who were in white. “We need you to get your ID‟s out and ready.” He drummed a beat on his stool in between checking passenger IDs. His black mustache undulated on his face as he noisily chewed gum, overgesticulating with every wide swing of his lower jaw. “Hey man,” Benjamin said to his phone, his voice ending on a high note as if asking a question. “I‟ll talk to you later. I need to get through security.” “Sure thing,” Dan answered. Benjamin put the phone back in his pocket, grateful for a brief repose. “Be glad you‟re flying today. It‟s a gorgeous day!” said the maroon vested employee as he scanned over a woman‟s ID. “Oh! That‟s what I like to see, smiling in your picture, Mrs. Stah-jah…koe-vick…?” “Stojakovic,” she corrected. “Yes. Thank you.” She grabbed her driver‟s license and walked on.

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“Yep. The terror level was downgraded to „elevated‟ yesterday,” he continued as he checked the IDs of an elderly couple. “Things seem to be getting under control.” “The terror level was elevated?” the lady he was checking asked. “No, no. It‟s at „elevated‟ right now. It was downgraded from orange to yellow, or from „high‟ to „elevated.‟” The lady eyed him blankly. “The risk is no longer „high,‟ it‟s „significant,‟” he tried to clarify. He handed her back her ID. “Just don‟t worry about it. You‟ll be fine.” He smiled generously with two audible smacks of his gum. “So yellow‟s good?” asked a man in a t-shirt and baseball cap further back in line. “Well green’s good: „low risk of attack.‟ Blue‟s not too bad either: a „general risk of attack.‟ Yellow‟s normal; normal-good.” He smacked twice with his oscillating jaw. “I don‟t think we‟ve ever been green nor will we ever be. It just wouldn‟t make sense, thinking logically. I mean, if I were a terrorist, which believe me I‟m not—I‟m Irish Catholic—” he giggled at his quip, “when would you most want to attack?” He scanned a woman‟s ID and ruffled a child‟s moppy hair. “When nobody‟s expecting it!” he answered himself triumphantly. “If the terror level were green, everyone would let their guard down. That would be the perfect time to strike.” Benjamin smirked, handing over his ID. “You are A-ok to go, Mr. Reynolds. I like your tie.” Benjamin took back his ID and continued with the procession around the dividing posts. He was waiting his turn for the metal detectors not too far in the distance when he noticed a demographic he rarely encountered. A man entered the line, five rows behind Benjamin. The man sported a beige robe that unfurled to just above the floor, propped up by his sharp shoulders. On his head was a peculiar hat of some sort, in the shape of an upside down pot—minus the

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handle. Two similarly dressed, sepia-skinned men joined him, one with a thick black beard. They chatted eagerly amongst themselves, each wearing a stuffed backpack. The first man unexpectedly threw a cursory glance, meeting Benjamin‟s eyes. For a split second, their eyes locked. Benjamin quickly threw his gaze to the tiled floor. Realizing his foolishness, Benjamin slowly raised his head again. The man beamed a smile and gave an acknowledging nod, and Benjamin reciprocated. Benjamin‟s phone vibrated. It was Judy. “Hello?” “Ben, Texas.” she simply stated, sounding stressed. “What? What about Texas? Oh shit, Texas is in this?” he said excitedly, covering his mouth post-expletive. Arkansas had just lost a Toyota truck manufacturing plant to Texas. It had come down to a location in the Arkansas delta and San Antonio, Texas. The weight of Arkansas‟ economic clout, allure, and hope were put behind attracting the prospective plant, ultimately to no avail. The perennial bully to the southwest, with five times the area and ten times the population, had won yet another cherished thing from Arkansas, well in accord with the bitter history between the states—mostly football related. “Yes, Texas is in this. Along with Mississippi, Alabama, and Oklahoma.” “Well Ayumi‟ll most certainly have a platter to choose from, won‟t they,” Benjamin said. As he got closer to the security checkpoint, the line started to condense considerably, like anxious salmon waiting to get through an unnatural dam. A woman in front glared at him, annoyed. Benjamin gave a warm, disarming smile. He calculated his stance to avoid awkwardly close contact with fellow commuters.

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“Alas, Ben, that‟s the beauty of the free market. The free exchange of ideas. The freedom to choose what you want, or not choose what you don‟t want,” Judy said as if reciting Business Administration 100. “Uhh…yeah,” Benjamin replied. “Yeah. It‟s exactly like that,” he said, unintentionally sarcastic. He stopped. He wasn‟t sure why he‟d answered the way he did. “Judy, thank you so much for your help, seriously,” he added. He smiled into the phone, hoping it would transmit. “No problem. Just be sure to emphasize Arkansas‟ both central location and proximity to the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers for transport. It‟ll look good against our competition.” Now nearer the checkpoint, Benjamin noted compartments where extensive combing of carryon luggage was carried out, divided off by glass panels for all to see. The searches appeared to be random, happening every ten or fifteen people, whether old ladies or young men. Three shrine-like metal detectors, staffed by personnel in white, stood equidistant from each other. Periodically, travelers were ushered through upon the benevolence of the men in white. “Will do,” Benjamin assured Judy. “Great,” Judy responded rather automatically. “Oh, and so me and some others were thinking we had the perfect gift idea for the Japanese.” Bing. “Effective immediately by the order of the Transportation Security Administration: if you plan to travel with liquids, gels or aerosols in your carryon bag remember…” the feminine voice interrupted. Benjamin realized that the intercom‟s message had changed now that he was near the security checkpoint, and he wondered how many times he‟d heard it. He checked his vinyl briefcase for any liquids like bottled water. Luckily he didn‟t bring any. Irritated commuters were throwing away toothpaste and face wash, among other things “And what‟s that?” Benjamin asked his phone.

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“Arkansas wine!” she declared triumphantly. “It‟s nice and it‟s from Arkansas,” Benjamin thought about it. “Where will I get this?” he asked. “I‟m not sure liquids are allowed on the plane.” “No, they definitely sell liquids past security. The wine‟s in the gift store.” “Oh right.” He realized it would be ridiculous for them not sell liquids at all. “Yeah, that‟s a good idea.” “Oh, I‟m so excited for you. All right, take care and good luck.” “Thanks, bye.” He slipped his cell phone back into his pocket and reached the front of the line. He was culled to the third metal detector mini-waiting line by a man in white. There, he saw people taking off their shoes and belts, and he followed suit. He made a smiling gesture to the on-duty personnel and got through without a hitch.

*

*

*

Benjamin looked at his boarding pass: gate two, only a few yards down the right from the security checkpoint and across from gate one. His legs somewhat sore and his stomach yearning for sustenance, he bypassed the gate and headed towards the row of stores across from gate three. He figured he‟d pick up something to eat on the way, but upon reaching an eatery he was dismayed to read a sign saying, “Sorry Closed--Faulty Boiler.” Blue-uniformed maintenance men were scattering in and out like industrious termites in a dirt mound. Benjamin stopped an exiting maintenance man. “Excuse me, “ Benjamin said, halting the man with his hand. “Do you know where I can find somewhere to eat?”

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The man looked back blankly, then smiled. “Somewhere to eat,” Benjamin said louder as if the man hadn‟t heard him. “I‟d like somewhere to eat. You know, like a McDonald‟s or whatever. Do you know….anywhere?” his voice trailed off. The maintenance man bobbed his head, and seemed to be on the verge of saying something, but didn‟t. Benjamin started to grow furious. “How may I help you?” another, large maintenance man asked, approaching Benjamin. The first maintenance man muttered something to the second in Spanish. “I‟m sorry, Pancho doesn‟t speak English very well,” the large maintenance man said to Benjamin. Pancho laughed and walked away. “Oh. Right. Do you know where I can get a bite to eat?” Benjamin asked. “Well, we won‟t be done with this place until tomorrow, so your best bet is gonna be the River Grille on the other side of the security checkpoint,” he said pointing back to where Benjamin had come from. “Ugh. I just came through there,” Benjamin sighed. “I‟ll pass.” Benjamin shuffled on to the bordering gift shop, aptly named “Gift Shop of Arkansas” in black cursive letters. He weaved through the rock candy, University of Arkansas Razorbacks memorabilia, assorted wooden handicrafts, and self-deprecating hillbilly humor naturally concomitant to all gift shops in Arkansas and sighed with relief when he reached the end of the store. On a pair of perpendicular shelves in the corner, he found the Clinton bobble-head dolls, along with other Clinton-stamped merchandise. The figure of Bill Clinton was set on a podium with a mini-White House behind him. Benjamin thought the caricature only vaguely reminded him of the former president, but moreso of Darryl Hammond.

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He noticed that the protective red, white, and blue cardboard framed all sides except the front, probably so that potential buyers could experiment with its bobbling. He gave the doll a quick shake, and it responded by bobbing its head in the form of an oval-shaped nod. He let out an audible chuckle in the mediumly-packed store. A thought crossed his mind that bobble head dolls only seem to make clumsy nods, not headshakes. Maybe it was due to the nature in which they were built; maybe it was due to nature in which people tend to shake objects, up and down. He scoured the store for his second objective and picked up a bottle of Arkansas wine. Unsure of how many executives he would eventually give a presentation to, he added a variety of “homemade” sweets for insurance and paid the cashier. After trying to force the consumables and bobble-head doll all into the same gift bag, Benjamin was forced to carry them separately. He made his way back to the gate, passing the Hispanic couple and three robed men he‟d seen at the checkpoint. Nearly all the passengers at his gate were strangely dressed in red. Upon noticing the Razorback logos and hog-shaped hats on children and ebullient adult caretakers, he remembered the University of Arkansas was playing the University of Southern California this weekend. He craned his neck and scanned the rows of linked chairs, looking for ones near the window. They were mostly taken already, save individual seats between families, strangers, and distant couples. Benjamin decided to settle for the outermost row that still had ample buffering seats. He set the bobble-head doll and gift bag on the accompanying chair and piled into his seat, which generated emphatic nods from the President. A tired sweat had begun coating his body, so he took off his tie and hung it around his neck. Loosening his top shirt button, he nodded off into a pleasant nap.

*

*

*

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Gasps abruptly awoke Benjamin. He turned to his right to see two seated elderly ladies, eyes dilated and curiously staring at the security checkpoint. He turned his head to the object of interest. “—this is bullshit! I don‟t have time for this,” a tall, blond man in a suit furiously said while creating a fissure through the layers of waiting travelers. Security personnel at the checkpoint stood with their fists on their hips, confidently waiting for him as he pushed his way through the line. “I‟m gonna miss my fucking plane!” the blond man said. He threw off his shoes and yanked his belt off into the plastic container, violently shoving it into the conveyer. He defiantly paced through the metal detector, metal-free. The guards started getting antsy. “What an asshole,” a man with a baseball cap muttered behind the President. “Sir,” a heavy-set security worker sternly said, walking straight up to the blond man and sizing him up. “You have to wait your turn in line.” “He should‟ve come here earlier,” one of the old ladies suggested to her friend, as if watching an unfolding soap opera. Her friend nodded in agreement. “Ugh!” The blond man took a deep breath. “This is fucking ridiculous! This is Little Rock, Arkansas, not New York! I came here an hour and a half early!” “Now, sir, you know better than that,” the security worker rebutted, “You‟re supposed to come two hours earlier.” “That‟s right, he should‟ve come earlier,” declared a middle-aged woman to Benjamin and the President‟s left, her arms crossed and head assertively nodding. “What!?” The blond man was hysterical.

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“All right sir, if you follow this young lady right over here, she‟ll be happy to help you.” The heavy-set security personnel gave a quick nod to a female security worker standing off in the extensive-search area. A man behind Benjamin laughed. “Prick had it coming.” “Oh fucking fantastic,” the blond man said, a little more resigned. Walking in dress socks and hoisting his pants up, he went into the glass enclosed compartment. He bit his lips and grimaced at the security employee, who waved a flat black bar along the crevices of his body. She then opened up his briefcase, lifting up and peering through its papers and files. Benjamin sat, wide-eyed through the whole encounter. “As they say,” an old man behind Benjamin quipped, “the early bird—. The earlier the bird—.” “The early bird gets the worm,” someone filled in. Another person let out an approving chortle. Finished with security, the blond man hastily slammed his briefcase shut and grabbed his belt, wallet, and shoes from the conveyer. He didn‟t bother to put any of it back on. Red-faced and shoeless, he power walked down the wide hall, his left hand clasping the rim of his pants and his right hand precariously holding his belongings. Benjamin sat, leaning forward with his mouth slightly agape and his eyebrows raised. As the blond man walked past gates one and two, a general cacophony of laughter started to emanate around Benjamin. It swelled across the airport, viscously filling gate two. Slowly, Benjamin realized the humor in the incident and couldn‟t help but laugh, nodding emphatically and harmonizing with the ongoing chorus. Minor tremors shook through the chain of seats.

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The laughter slowed and softened, coming to an abrupt halt. Benjamin stopped too, his face a rude mixture of glee and blankness. He leaned back into his seat, sweat now pouring from his face. Benjamin looked around as other passengers discarded various garments in the warm, sticky air. Businessmen and women had abandoned all formality, and ties were thrown across arm rests and sunken shoulders. Hog-head hats were strewn across the feet of their respective owners, and Razorback face paint acted as red dye in the sweat droplets of children. “Hoo! Is there any place in this whole damn state that‟s not hot and humid!?” a jokester commented. No one responded. Benjamin loosened another button.

*

*

*

Suddenly, an explosion. A crescendo of screams emanated around Benjamin. He leaned out of his seat to look down the hall. White smoke billowed from the row of stores he had just been to, engulfing the wide hallway. Benjamin and other passengers ran to the center of the hallway for a clear view. Dazed, bewildered victims, both skin and clothes bloodied and tattered, poured out of the smoke, hysterically screaming. Secondary explosions. “Oh my God, Oh my God,” Benjamin anxiously and mechanically whispered to himself. He knew exactly what was going on. An anxious large man behind Benjamin jumped out of his

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seat, shouting orders to his petite wife. Another fit man sprung up, shoulders hunched and hands spread flat on the open air, his brow furrowed and his intense eyes panning around suspiciously. An old woman hysterically blurted out the obvious. At her utterance, droves of passengers ran towards the security checkpoint, looking for a channel of escape. Security guards cocked their guns and vigorously motioned to each other. Benjamin and few others stood suspended at gate two, hesitant to follow the crowd. Instantly, the robed man appeared from the smoke, unscathed, running towards Benjamin. His backpack, looming as ever. His two friends, conspicuously absent. His gait, unwavering. The man was yelling, yelling something at Benjamin. Benjamin backpedaled; he didn‟t understand. The sepia-skinned man closed in, his eyes locking on Benjamin, his robe flying up with each kick of his feet, his heavy backpack holding steady on one of his shoulders. Benjamin, shocked, bumbled backwards, edged towards the wall. He wasn‟t sure what to do. The rectangular terminal reverberated with screams of terror.

*

*

*

The robed man ran past with barely a glance at Benjamin. A panicking stream of passengers followed not far behind him, escaping from the curtain of wet, white smoke. “Explosions! Get out!” “Jacob! Get over here!” “Run! Run!” “Don‟t Panic!” “Mary!”

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“Explosions in the Diner! In the Diner!” Benjamin wretchedly grasped at the wall his back rested on, his face and hair drenched with sweat and his heart beating exotically. “Oh my God! Oh my God!” “Is it a terrorist!? Is it a terrorist!?” More streams of terrified passengers reemerged from the smoke. The robed man‟s friends were running with the crowd, seeking safety. Two maintenance men, one with a bloody forehead trailed. The wall holding his back steady, Benjamin sunk to the ground, forlorn. Haggard and distraught, he stared blankly into the ground as warm water seeped to his feet. His face flushed over; it matched his tie.

*

*

*

“You all right?” a man in a blue maintenance uniform asked, bent over Benjamin and holding his shoulder. Benjamin broke from his reverie as the giant of a man eclipsed his vision. Water, splattering and sloshing, reverberated through the empty shell of the terminal as more maintenance men jogged towards the now translucent and diffused steam cloud. They turned inside the misshapen remnants of the diner. “Yeah, yeah. I‟m all right” Benjamin muttered. He dabbed his hand in the warm water and instinctively slicked his disheveled hair back, springing up onto two legs. “Ha ha! Thank God,” the maintenance man‟s voice boomed, amplified by the empty carcass of the terminal. He turned his attention to his walkie talkie. “Yeah, Bert, I got a

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straggler. I think we‟re good now…” He turned away from Benjamin and walked slowly towards the diner, describing the scene to an eager invisible ear. Benjamin thought about realigning his belt, recalibrating his collar, and retying his tie, but then thought better of it. He went to his seat and picked up belongings, sloshing back to the main hall of the airport. “Oh, and one more thing,” the maintenance man called out. Benjamin‟s sloshing gave way to the serene drip of water as he stopped and turned back to the man. “There are a lot of aggressive cameras out there with the press. Can you do us a favor and avoid them for a while?” Benjamin eyed him intensely. The maintenance man blinked, then made smiling gesture. “You know, just until we get this figured out.”

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