Heathrow Airport, near London, United Kingdom
20:36, October 23, 2014.
Christopher Barnes Markson, Federal Air Marshal Service, TSA
Christopher was currently sitting in his Volvo S60, which was provided by the agency for him when spending time in the UK; the rain, constantly pattering on the car's windscreen, did not seemed to cease for days. Waiting for his supervisor to give him his next flight's details, he had nothing better to do than wait - but waiting bored him.
Markson was always an enthusiastic reader, going through any book he could get his hands on was easy for him; from science-fictions to fantasies, he enjoyed everything. Right now, he was reading something that Anna gave to him at his last visit as a gift; he thought much of it - like to anything that was given to him by his daughter - but Markson had the feeling that he is a bit old for this.
The book - The Journey, to be called by its title - was a fantasy-story about owls, and although a fantasy, it was surprisingly realistic on various levels of anatomy and biology. Christopher still thought of it only as a book; he liked to focus only on reality: reading did occupy him for the requisite amount of time, but it was only for that, nothing else. That was what he always thought.
While reading a passage on page 41, Markson's phone, all of a sudden, started vibrating in his pocket, all mixed with the loud and abrupt sound of the classical, yet annoying ring.
Jumping a bit at the sound, he put the bookmarker between the pages, placed the item on the seat next to him, then reached inside his coat. The display of the phone did show a caller; Samuel Broyles, his director at the TSA. He swiped to the left on the screen with his finger, picking up the incoming call.
- Yes? - he asked while he opened the car's door to exit; he also took his shoulder bag with himself, along with the book, which was put into the previously mentioned carrying equipment.
- It is Sam, Chris - the voice of a man around his 40s sounded on the other end of the line - Are you feeling alright? Are there any complications? - he sounded concerned.
- Yeah, of course - answered Markson casually - No problems, other than this damn weather! - this was said in more of a joking way.
- They say the aerial corridors are clear up at flying altitude. Everything will be fine, do not you worry about that - rustling of papers was heard in the background - You are assigned to flight BR82, Boston - there was probably nothing that Christopher hated more than flying, despite the nature of his job - Are you looking forward to see Anna? - Broyles could have been believed to know the most about Markson's personal life; he was a... personal supporter of Barnes, always standing next to him in desperate times to assist if needed.
- You bet! - he smiled - Houston National - referred Chris to the intended location of the off-job travel.
- Good choice - for some reason, Broyles hesitated about saying something. After a few seconds, he finally started - Chris, listen, I need to tell you something: the...
At that moment, Samuel's voice was suppressed by an airplane flying overhead; Markson looked up with an annoyed face at the source of the ground-shaking sound, then shouted into the phone.
- Sam, just wait for a second, I cannot... - he sighed, which was, for obvious reasons, inaudible - There is a plane over here, give me time until it passes!
He started to make his way towards the main entrance for departures, crossing the car park in the almost blinding rain. If this keeps up, he is going to be all soaked before even reaching the cover of the building; he just hoped that the phone can withstand this amount of water. The parking was not empty; it was deserted Before reaching the cover of the building though, he could see a lightning bolt striking down, hitting the ground somewhere in the distance. „Sam, you better be right about the weather!", he thought angrily.
Chris arrived in front of a photoelectric door, which automatically opened, and he stepped inside the terminal.
- Sam? - he raised the phone back to his ear while heading towards the security checkpoint - Sam, are you there...? - the familiar beep of a call ending could be heard - Damn - he checked the screen: no signal. „Terrific", he thought.
Markson put the phone back in his coat. The terminal was full, even at this hour; he needed to concentrate to find a way through.
His chances of finding out what Broyles wanted were equal to zero; at least until the weather returned to the normal state. If it will ever do: for days, this whole disaster of a rain and storm was over the UK; Chris just wanted to finally see the sunlight.
Now that he was approaching the guards' stand, he, unintentionally, but could feel the SIG Sauer P229 pistol pressing against his waist - the weapon he always carried with himself, be it in his work, or as a civilian. This was a heavy burden to bear, hard to get used to. Some never could.
- Sir, please place all items on the tray, we will check through your belongings - said one of the guards in a bored voice, which Markson, as an answer, nodded to.
Although, before he picked anything out from his pockets or put his bag down, he raised his ID, which the security immediately recognised. On the tray, Christopher placed out a pack of chewing gums, a personal notebook, his phone, the international ID, and, finally, Anna's present - the book.
The guard, before starting the conveyor belt, looked at Markson in a questioning way. Christopher noticed him doing this, and quickly looked for a way out; he did not like awkward situations.
- It is... for my daughter. She likes to read a lot! - he added with a smile; the only problem with his statement was that the bookmark he put in there a few minutes ago was hanging out with such an obvious clarity that Barnes could feel himself faintly go red.
- Whatever you say, sir - an almost invisible smile went upon the face of the guard, who then started to check through Markson's stuff with the x-ray device.
As to decrease the sheer unpleasant feeling, Markson walked over to the metal detector, where the colleague of the guard signaled him to walk over to his side. No one could see it, but, just before Chris walked through, the operator disabled the device, so Barnes could get across without a signal given off by the machine, which would have otherwise detected his sidearm. After a few seconds, his bag was picked up, then the security guard talked again - Clear - then handed over Chris' sidebag - Have a good flight, sir!
- Thank you - nodded Barnes, and took his bag.
No more than 20 minutes later, Christopher was sitting in the massive hall of the terminal, waiting for the flight gate to open. Once again, with nothing better to do, he took out The Journey from his bag, and carried on reading it; page 50 he got to in the past minutes, while drinking a hot cup of coffee, which normally calmed him down before the flights. So far, nothing especially thrilling was found by him in the story or between the paragraphs; as mentioned before, just a time-spending activity.
Then, the pleasant voice of a woman was heard through some well-hidden speakers as one of the destinations was announced:
- All passengers of flight BR82, please proceed to boarding gate 72, I repeat, all passengers to Boston, Massachusetts... - Markson stopped listening to the announcement, once Higgins sat down next to him.
- Sir, I am afraid that you are carrying illegal equipment with yourself - he whispered on a low voice only Christopher could hear.
- I was meant to tell you about the weaponry I have in my bag? - asked Markson on the same volume, with pretended seriousness.
For 5 seconds, there was total silence, then the two bursted out laughing, attracting a couple of strange looks from various people. When they calmed down, Christopher cleared his throat, and began to speak in a quiet tone:
- Although, you do know about one thing; protocol - then he added with a more serious note - You do know that we are not supposed to talk with each other, am I correct? - this was partially a minor, but still scornful remark, made clear by a well-hidden glance at Higgins' face.
The other person gave off an emphasised sigh, then reached inside his coat. A second later, a phone appeared in Jacob's right hand, which he opened up, and started to type on; what he was writing was different question, which Markson found out the answer at the glimpse of a moment.
Christopher's phone vibrated for a short time, then stayed totally still; he put his hand inside the suit he was wearing, picked out the item, unlocked the screen, and checked the message he received from Agent Higgins.
„You always had a way to get around obstacles, did not you?", he laughed in himself. The text on the device was read; I am familiar with the regulations, thank you, but I also understand that you are nervous about flights, especially about tonight's.
Barnes touched the screen, and started typing the following, which was only one word; Indeed.
He stood up, as it was time for them to go to the boarding gate. Needless to say, Higgins would stay at least a 100 meters behind, as to not cause suspicion, which could be detected by anyone; after all, they were both undercover, despite the minor break of FAMS regulations they just made.
For a few minutes, he was walking through the long corridor which led to the boarding gate they were meant to go to, crowded by all kind of people, but not as much that it caused difficulties in moving around.
Once again, his phone vibrated, which led him to take it out, and check the screen, that read; What? Are you just going to leave me hanging? Chris shook his head and smiled, then started to type the following with a minor difficulty, as he was in the middle of walking somewhere: No; you should follow, or you will... - but he could not finish this action, as he bumped into someone else; the sudden collision caused him to drop his phone, which fell apart to pieces on the hard floor.
„Ah, crap!", he swore in thought, then started to apologise out loud:
- Sorry, sir, I could not see you there, I... - Chris looked up, and saw a medium sized man in a green track suit, a pair of drawstring sweatpants with the same colour, finished off with a beanie hat on his head; the face had a serious look, although with eyes looking tired. The guy was just staring back at him; there was no problem with that, but the way he was gazing down, it was just simply strange: there was something in that look, something that showed... Dislike? Hate? Hostility?
Chris have been in this work for long enough, he knew what people looked like when they felt different emotions, thought of something else, or just bluffed with their facial expressions. This guy?
He was doing it right now.
As the man seemed to have snapped out of his... „staring-state", words finally came out from his mouth. He spoke with a European accent - one of the other things Markson would immediately notice - possibly Northern; Sweden, Norway, maybe even Denmark.
- Think nothing of it - he said simply - It was an accident, was it not? - the man leaned down to pick up the object that fell apart, then handed the pieces over to Markson.
- Thank you, sir - he nodded and took the phone. For a moment, the eyes of the two locked: Christ could see the green coloured iris of the man, the pupil closing in - way too much, like he was about to lunge at Barnes. But nothing happened. Two different directions they walked towards now, Markson towards boarding gate 72, and the man... Well, who knows?
As an effect of compunction, Chris turned back and shouted across the 50 meters distance between him and the guy:
- And again, sorry for the trouble! - but no reaction came from the individual, what is more, Barnes failed to spot him in the crowd. While stretching his neck to see where the green-eyed man disappeared to, someone else crashed into Chris, almost pushing him over again, but, this time, he managed to stay on his feet.
- Sorry - said an old woman, with an innocent look on her face. Markson just smiled and nodded one:
- It is my fault, I was just... gazing off, I got a bit carried away - he started to walk again, towards his objective, and, while doing so, they kept talking with the old woman.
- Oh, do not worry, sweetheart, it happens to me as well! - smiled the lady - First time on an airport? - she asked in a very warm way.
- Actually, no - answered Chris - This is like the hundredth time I am here, I know this place off my hand - this was true; even though Markson was supposed to stay undercover, but, in a way, these kinds of conversations facilitate the process of earning other people's trust - or just simply deceiving them.
The old woman smiled kindly, which, in some way, comforted the minimally nervous Christopher.
- What do you work as, sweety? - asked the woman curiously.
Now these cases were different: Markson obviously could not say that he was an air marshal; on these occasions he needed to lie. But it was for the better.
- Well... - he hesitated, then something came to his mind - I am currently employed at a publishing agency. The one that is involved with books, mostly - „This should be good enough for her to believe!".
- Oh, really? - said the old lady with pretended curiousness.
„Why ask of you do not care?", though Markson with a small amount of anger, „Maybe you care, but about different informations?". Then he realised what he was just thinking; technically, he was accusing an old lady, which at this very current time, he should not really have. „Usual suspects, I guess"; for an air marshal, anyone could be suspect: whichever ethnicity, language, class, age... There was no picking when it came to his duty; the real enemy is deceiving, not obvious.
He sighed: instead of relieving his stress, he was building up more and more to it, not a good thing to do before flights. Nevertheless, this was what kept him focused and sharp once they were up at 35000 feet.
- Is everything fine, dear? - asked the lady with concern, now not pretending anything - You look very pale to me! - she looked at Christopher in a motherly way.
- Yes, I just... get nervous prior to flights, it goes away after a while - he waved with his hand.
The boarding gate was to his left, and, by the looks of it, the lady was going somewhere else than Barnes did. Being polite, he considered to say goodbye.
- Well, I think this is where we part ways! - smiled Markson, and stopped to shaked hands with the old lady; his sudden halt caused some angry moans and quiet complaints behind him, but, as soon as he looked at these people, silence came. Chris held out one arm - Have a good flight, ma'am!
- You too, Barnes! - they shook hands, then parted ways.
While looking upwards to find the board showing number 72 - which would have depicted the direction he needs to take to the boarding gate - he started to think about the reason why the old lady reminded him of someone.
„She was a bit like Anna after all", he thought, „Polite, caring, and, on top of all..."
„She knew my name", jumped into his mind, then, immediately, his rational thinking kicked in; he swiveled around to check where the woman was. Markson needed to remember that he was still undercover, although he could feel a barely resistable urge to unholster his weapon. Expected by him, the old lady was nowhere to be seen.
If there would have been any signal, or if his phone would have been in one piece in the first place, Chris' objective would have been to call his supervisor, and report this in; but this was not an option now.
- Your boarding pass and ID, please, sir - a young lady in an American Airlines uniform asked for the documents. To this, Markson not only showed his pass and identification, but, in a concealed way, his FAM badge as well. The woman paid specific attention so that the proof of Barnes' position stayed out from civilians' visual range. After they finished with the legal check of the documents, those were handed back to Chris, who now started to go through the gateway that lead to the aircraft.
He checked his watch: 21:04; 26 minutes until take-off. Looking behind, he spotted Higgins, standing at the end of the long line, waiting to get on the plane. Markson nodded to him lightly, a signal that everything is alright; Jacob reciprocated the movement, then started to type something on his phone.
„If you want to send something to me, that is not going to work!", he thought bitterly, and started to walk through the bridge that connected the terminal to the aircraft.
Just 9 hours from now, then he will be with Anna. „You will get through this, Chris!", he calmed himself, "You did before, you will do again!"
The storm raged outside, unceasable by anything; rain, lightning and massive winds. All together, this was the worst flight Markson was looking at in the past 4 years. Little did he knew about the event that was to occur later this night.