Story of the Month
‘These things happen.’
I put down the newspaper, picked up the EAW form and double-checked it. ‘But I thought the guy was a bit of a hero.’
Gabe shook his head. ‘They aren’t popular now, the Jews. Too strident. Too self-sufficent. They just don’t know how to embrace victimhood. There’s a crackdown.’
‘He’s a lawyer.’
Gabe nodded, ‘And the wife and kid. They’re all on the warrant.’
‘What could the kid have done?’ I said.
On the form, beside the Zimmermans’ fingerpints, was an infant’s footprint. I looked out onto the runway; despite the ploughs being out since mid-afternoon the snow was beginning to lie out there in drifts. It was after eleven now and the temperature was dropping fast.
‘Ask Brussels,’ Gabe said, ‘There’s a general warrant out for these people.’
These people I thought.
‘An hour ‘til Christmas Day and we’re searching for fugitives who might board the last plane into a snowstorm.’
‘He’s a lawyer,’ Gabe said. ‘They hate lawyers. They hate jews, but they hate lawyers too.’
‘And their families,’ I said.
‘So it seems.’
Fifteen minutes later I left Gabe at the check-in gate and went to the Costa for a couple of lattes. We were due off at twelve thirty but it looked like we’d either close early or be snowed in. Flights were looking to be cancelled within the next half hour. Even Pjiotr the hyperactive Pole who worked the Costa nightshift looked tired. Sad even. The mall was empty. Silent.
‘What’s up, Pete?’ I asked.
‘Am missing home, Tim,’ and without being asked he began frothing up two lattes, double-shotted, then poured himself one too. ‘The snow reminds me of Christmas back home.’
‘Couldn’t you take a few days off? Pop over and see the family.’
‘No shift cover, man,’ he said. ‘The locals won’t work Christmas and I can’t afford not to.’
He snapped on the lids, I picked up the two lattes and took them back to the desk.
‘We’ve got a message,’ Gabe said. ‘Last plane boards in five minutes.’
’11.30 to Zurich?’
‘Yeah, and after that we’re closing down.’
‘And a Merry Christmas to us all.’
Gabe grinned, ‘Got that right. Might be home before the kids wake. They’re at that age.’
‘Yeah.’ The thought of children getting out of bed in the middle of the night to search for gifts made me smile.
The last call came for the 11.30 to Zurich, amplified digital voices echoing across the empty plaza from the loudspeakers. Gabe took a breath, we looked for stragglers but there were none.
‘Going for a piss,’ he said, leaving his cardboard takeaway cup on the desk. I put mine down, still unpopened, beside his and stood up, stretching my back. Outside the snow was getting deeper.
A trolley-dolly hurried past. ‘Any more?’ she asked.
‘One more minute, then I’m closing the door,’ I said. She disappeared through the exit marked Passengers Only. I rubbed my eyes, the prospect of an early finish making me feel even more tired.
‘Are we in time?’ a voice asked me.
I opened my eyes to see a couple standing in front of me. They had a child with them, barely an infant. Still breastfeeding, I guessed, by the way she held him tight, inside her coat. I say him, but there was no way to tell really. I didn’t know for sure ‘til later.
‘You’ve got about thirty seconds,’ I said, with a smile. A lot of people hate the last-minuters but I’ve always made an effort to be nice. They pay my wage, after all.
He held out his passport, and his wife and child’s joint passport and I took them. They looked fine. Then I checked the tickets, Which were wrong.
‘These are for Tel Aviv,’ I said, ‘That flight went three hours ago.’
‘There was one for eleven forty-five,’ he said. ‘Can’t we transfer?’
‘That’s been cancelled. The weather,’ I said, indicating with a nod the snow-covered windows. ‘Last flight of the night is going to Zurich.’
‘Zurich will be fine,’ he said. ‘We have friends in Zurich.’
He glanced at his wife who nodded, a nervous smile flitting across her face. I frowned, the whole situation felt wrong. ‘But the tickets are for a different destination, with a different airline. It’s not transferable.’
He looked desperately, almost hungrily toward the departure gate and I remembered the Arrest Warrant, picked up the printout. ‘Joseph Zimmerman,’ I said. His shoulders shifted, flinched almost, and he looked across desperately at his wife who hugged the infant closer to her chest. The child stared at me for a moment; deep blank eyes watchng me closely. Then it turned away.
Please,’ he whispered.
At that moment Sarah, one of the Trolley Dolls popped her head through the door from the Boarding Gate, ‘Storm’s closing in, Tim; we’re off. Merry Christmas!’ and she blew me a kiss.
‘Merry Christmas, Sarah.’
‘Mr. Shepherd,’ a soft voice said. I turned. Mrs. Zimmerman had read the name on my badge and her eyes were pleading with me, desperate. Without thinking, without really knowing why, I turned back and shouted,’ Sarah!’
The door opened and Sarah reappeared, looking a bit irritated. ‘What?’
‘This is the, erm,’ my mind raced, ‘The Zimmerman’s have lost their tickets, but they’re booked on your flight.’
Sarah sighed, walked over, looked at the family, said, ‘Well come on then, if we wait another three minutes we won’t be able to lift off, the snow is falling so heavy.’
I turned to Mrs. Zimmerman, who was shivering, whether with her or relief or just the cold, I couldn’t tell. ‘Take this,’ I said, giving her my untouched latte. She took it, ‘Thankyou.’
‘Come on people,’ Sarah hissed.
The Zimmermans followed her. Joseph paused, turned and mouthed, ‘Thankyou,’ as Sarah guided them through the door and toward the boarding gate. They disappeared from sight and the doors had barely closed when Gabe appeared. He frowned. ‘Last minuters?’ He gave a wry grin, ‘I hate ’em.’
I nodded, staring out the window to where, a few minutes later, the plane was taxiing away through the falling snow and toward the runway.
Fifteen minutes later we were wrapping up warm and walking through the empty mall. Pjiotr was polishing the bauables on a tiny Christmas tree that stood on the counter. ‘Want to share a taxi?’ I asked him. ‘The place is closing and I’ve got one booked.’
‘Sure. Better than sleeping under the counter.’
I knew he couldn’t afford a taxi, and the buses were off. It wouldn’t cost me any more to share.
‘Give me two minutes,’ he said.
‘I’ll be outside,’ I told him and walked out into the snowstorm, waited beneath the bus shelter, enjoyed my last cigarette and watched Gabe drive off in his jeep. As his car went beneath the barrier in one direction two police cars came in the other direction, lights flashing, sirens going.
‘Trouble?’ Pjiotr asked, arriving beside me.
‘No trouble,’ I said.
A few minutes later a taxi pulled up, the window went down and I leaned in. ‘Taxi booked for Tim Shepherd?’ the driver asked.
‘That’s me.’ We climbed into the cab. The driver started the clock, glanced at the dashboard and said, ‘Hey, it’s midnight. Merry Christmas folks.’
Pjiotr turned to me and grinned, took my hand and shook it vigorously. ‘Merry Christmas Tim.’
‘Merry Christmas, Pete,’ I said.
He kept on shaking my hand, ‘Comfort and joy, Tim,’ he said. ‘Comfort and joy.’
I caught the driver’s eye in the mirror.
‘Comfort and joy,’ I said to them both.
by James Ross