Brian took full advantage of Iberia’s hospitality in their lounge at Barajas airport. After his sixth glass of wine and a couple of shots of whisky, he was feeling even more unhappy as he boarded the LA flight. The boarding desk looked at him suspiciously as he staggered on to the plane and paged through to the crew that he might be worth keeping a close eye on.
He settled into his premium economy seat and put his hand luggage between his feet. He had his duty free brandy in there and he thought he might need it during the flight to help drown his sorrows. The stewardess had other ideas though.
‘Mr Gardner, can I put that bag in the overhead bins for now, please?’
‘I’d rather have it down here, it’s got my iPod and magazines.’ Brian slurred.
‘Yes, and it’s got your duty frees in it, and I hope you’re not thinking of opening them during the flight. Apparently, you’ve enjoyed a few drinks already. We hope you have a pleasant flight, but we won’t tolerate any bad behaviour that could upset fellow passengers or put them at risk. Do you understand what I am saying, Mr Gardner?’
Brian looked at her sheepishly before handing her his duty frees which she stowed in the bins.
‘Sorry. It’s been an emotional Christmas for me with my family. Promise I won’t cause any trouble.’ He smiled weakly.
The stewardess gave him a ‘seen it all before’ look and went on to help other passengers into their seats prior to take off. He slumped into his seat and tried to sleep off the effects of his time in the Iberia lounge. When he woke up, they were at cruising altitude and he felt heavy-headed.
He checked the in-flight map to see how far they had travelled so far and was surprised to see they were a good distance over the Atlantic and there were six hours until they landed at LAX.
‘Would you like some refreshments, Mr Gardner?’ The stewardess asked.
‘Thanks, I’d love a lemonade with ice, please. No chance of having anything stronger to add to it I suppose.’ Brian chanced his luck.
‘I don’t think so. Not now, anyway. Maybe later if you behave yourself.’ She laughed handing him the plastic cup full of ice and a small tin of lemonade.
He accepted the drink sheepishly, reflecting on what had been silly behaviour at Barajas airport. Did he really need a drink that much that he was going to become another embarrassment to his son who was already annoyed with him? On the other hand, he wondered why he should care. It was his life and he should be able to make mistakes without fear of being reprimanded by his son.
Bollocks! He thought. He didn’t care what Bradley thought anymore and gently asked the stewardess if he could partake of a white wine if he promised to be good. She relented, especially as it wasn’t good form to ban premium economy or business class from drinking, even though they normally got smashed on the long haul routes. It was just something they had to put up with.
She poured him a white wine which he gratefully accepted. Then, every time a different stewardess walked past he asked them for the same. By the time they were coming in to Los Angeles, Brian was completely wasted and was now abusing the crew who had threatened to restrain him and call for the police when they landed. Unfortunately, this didn’t stop him from standing up in the aisle on final approach ranting at nobody in particular about the mistakes he had made in life, his famously embarrassed son and his failed relationships. It all came out and in the end two of the cabin crew had to force him back into his seat and handcuff him to it.
The police had been informed and they would be waiting for him when they landed at LAX which only made him worse as he shouted at the crew and other passengers alike. He had gone too far this time.
As the other passengers disembarked the plane, some shouted insults at the restrained drunk sitting in premium economy. When everybody else was heading for immigration, two armed policemen boarded the plane, one heading for Brian and the other approaching the crew to get the whole story.
‘Sir, I’m arresting you for endangering passengers’ safety, causing an affray and being drunk.’ The officer read him his rights before removing the restraints and putting handcuffs on him. Brian was now in tears again, shouting sorry over and over again. He didn’t put up a fight and was led away to the airport’s police station to be formally charged.
Unfortunately, there are always members of the press at LAX waiting for anybody famous to arrive in town. They watched as an obvious drunk was escorted through the arrivals by police. One of the reporters recognised Brian immediately from when he interviewed him and Bradley Gardner during the last World Cup. His friend was working at the hotel where Brian and his girlfriend were staying at the time and they had been out to dinner together. This would make great headlines, he thought as his photographer took loads of photos of a shambolic looking Brian. Hold the front page!
Brian had to spend the night in the cells while he was being processed. Unfortunately, this would have serious repercussions with regards to his job and his eligibility to remain in the US.
The next morning, after he had slept it off, he was visited by his boss who was holding a copy of the Los Angeles Tribune under his arm. He threw the newspaper on to the desk in front of Brian, headline side up.
Brad’s Dad’s Air Rage Disgrace!
Brian looked aghast at the headline. That was it, then. Once Bradley heard about this then he feared he would never hear from him again. His boss was equally unhappy.
‘What the fuck’s this all about, Gardner? Care to explain to me why I shouldn’t sack you?’
Brian told him all about Christmas and how he had let his family down again. How Lucy had left him and gone back to England and how he had too much white wine on the way home. He was mortally sorry for his actions and promised that he would get clean again now he was back in LA.
‘Sorry, but it doesn’t work like that. Department of Homeland Security have cancelled your green card and want you on the next flight back to London. And by the way, that will be the last flight you ever go on. Airlines are cracking down on this kind of thing and you’re officially banned from every plane in the sky. Obviously, this means you are fired effective immediately and your stuff will be crated up and shipped back to the UK when you give us a forwarding address. Sorry it’s come to this Brian, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I hope you get yourself sorted out.’ His boss told him before exiting the room leaving him with the airport policeman.
The officer looked at Brian with no sign of sympathy on his face.
‘Mr Gardner, we have two paths we can travel down, if you will excuse my sense of irony. Firstly, you can go straight to jail until the case goes to court and you get sent down for 30 days. The second route might be more acceptable to you, and it keeps our paperwork down to a minimum which suits me. You pay the fine of $5,000 and get on the flight back to Heathrow that we have booked you on. Oh, you have to pay the fare for you and an accompanying officer for that as well. So that’s another $3,000. What’ll it be?’
Brian’s face paled and he started sweating. He had no choice.
‘I guess I don’t really have a choice, do I? Has to be option two.’ Brian replied as he fumbled for his wallet.
‘Good choice Mr Gardner. Sign here and let me have your credit card so I can process the payment, please.’ The officer smiled.
Brian handed over his Amex card to the officer and waited while he processed the fine. A few seconds later and it was all done. He was $8,000 down, had nowhere to live, no job and probably no family. All for a few too many drinks.
The officer picked up the phone and asked his colleague to meet him at the departure gate with his overnight bag, then escorted Brian to meet him there. He was met by a huge black policeman who looked like he could cause trouble if he wanted. Introducing himself as Sergeant O’Malley, he cuffed Brian and told him to sit down until the plane was boarding.
Despite Brian’s attempts at conversation, Sergeant O’Malley ignored him and kept silent. He didn’t enjoy these long haul trips unless it was for a vacation. Usually, these flights were only within the US and he could get there and back the same day, but this one was twenty hours flying time at least. He would get put up in a lousy fleapit of an hotel in London before turning round and heading back to LA. He heard the weather was rubbish in London at this time of year as well.
When they boarded the American Airlines flight to Heathrow, Brian was upset to find that he had paid all that money and only got economy seats. As Sergeant O’Malley was a big man, he knew he wasn’t going to have much elbow room on board. He was squeezed into the window seat by O’Malley’s bulky body and dreaded the next eleven hours. He also needed to think about where he could go when he got to Heathrow. Although the fine and the fares had made a big hole in his bank balance, he still had some money saved which he would have to use to stay in a hotel until he sorted out an apartment. That wasn’t going to be easy without a job and now having a criminal record.
It did cross his mind that perhaps he ought to look for Lucy and hope she could put him up for a while. He didn’t care that it would seem desperate; he was desperate. Although he didn’t know where she was, he would have to start looking in her old haunts and hope. At least he still had her mobile number and email address.
He didn’t manage to get much sleep on the plane, not with Sergeant O’Malley taking half his space. Managed to get a stiff neck as well as being crushed. Finally, they landed at Heathrow where they were met at the door to the plane by an airport policeman who would interview him and hopefully, let him go. When they reached the police station at Heathrow, Sergeant O’Malley officially signed him over to the Heathrow police and left them to it. No handshakes, no goodbyes, nothing from the man he had been handcuffed to for the last twelve hours.
It took a couple of hours to process the charges levied against Brian. They also viewed his actions as dangerous and gave him a copy of the notice that he was banned from all airlines for the foreseeable future. The dreaded ‘No Fly’ list. Then, they questioned him about his plans. Did he have a job to go to? Did he have somewhere to live? Brian explained that he had spent all his money on the fine and fares in LA, he had nowhere to live and certainly no job prospects with his record. He laid it on think in the hope that the policeman would take pity on him and point him towards the nearest social services who would put him up in a nice council flat in Hackney and drop £200 per week into his bank account. No such luck. He was told that he was effectively on parole and needed to report to his local police station weekly until told otherwise. Where he stayed wasn’t their problem, but he needed to sort this out first.
Sometime later, battered and emotionally bruised, Brian emerged into the morning light on a chilly December day and stared at the sky. In a way, he was pleased to be back in the UK. He had gone full circle from London to Dunfermline, to LA and now back to London. He wondered if any of his old friends might want to help, but as he cut off contact with any of them years ago he didn’t think that would be an option. He didn’t have any family living in the south either. No, he was truly alone in his home city.
Luckily, he still had some Euros left from his recent Spain visit so he cashed them at the Bureau de Change into Sterling and assessed his personal wealth at that time. £150 in cash and two credit cards which were nowhere near their limit, although they were US bank cards and once they realised he wasn’t coming back or had any intention to pay his account off, they would freeze them immediately. He had to move as much money to his old UK bank account as soon as possible, not caring if he defaulted on his US credit cards. They wouldn’t know where to find him and the whole of America could fuck off as far as he was concerned.
With that, he bought an Oyster card at the Underground station and headed for Shoreditch in the vain hope of bumping into Lucy.
Today would be the first day of the rest of his life. Fingers crossed.