Plodiv International Airport, Bulgaria
Father Valorous’ group disembarked from the curtained bus in the pre-dawn hours. The bus driver yawned, shivering from the moist morning chill. As the last adult and child stepped down off the vehicle, the door snapped shut. The bus rumbled off. Sister Bagdona shook her gloved fist at it.
“Next time, just kick us off.”
Father Valorous turned and looked at the retreating bus. Shrugging, he walked toward the Sister, grasped her shoulders and turned her toward the airport terminal.
“Let’s concentrate on the next leg of the journey. We’re not exactly loved around here, anymore.”
“Thanks be to Rome,” intoned the novice.
“We got out with our skins. Thanks be to Rome.”
Led by the novice, the group followed him, with Sister Bagdona and Father Valorous bringing up the rear. Their hoods nearly hid their faces, and no one inside the terminal paid much attention. A janitor sweeping the floor noticed that the group all wore rainbow gloves that disappeared up the sleeves of their jackets. What she could see of their faces told her nothing, except they wanted their identities to remain blank in people’s minds.
Shrugging the janitor swept the floor and watched the set of black rubber sole black-laced high boots walk by her. She thought she saw smudged black ridge lines on the white linoleum floor, but when she walked over to investigate, the outlines of black marks disappeared as if they never existed.
Father Valorous watched the janitor’s face. With a flick of his hand, her sweeping slowed. She fell to the floor, the broom skittering on the floor and falling beside her. Sister Bagdona’s eyes darted around the terminal, but she found no one paying any attention to the incident.
“Safe for now.”
“Too early for curious minds,” Father Valorous said, “So far so good. Arrangements have been made. We’re to walk through the tunnel to the plane. Father Tairino was quite explicit in his directions. No one will ask for tickets or ID’s.”
“Mind to mind? Father Tairino has that capability?”
“Trained no doubt by Erros or Ambros. We need to move quickly before the police awaken from their untimely slumber.”
Sister Bagdona laughed. The rest of the group turned and grinned. The novice kept walking forward as if he wanted to stand out from the rest of the group. His steps soon faltered as he heard no pattering steps from behind him. Father Valorous stepped forward leaving Sister Bagdona in the rear.
“Come, we must hurry and enter the belly of the beast.”
Father Valorous’ group hurried after him. At the portal leading into the tunnel, no airline official stopped them from entering. The group marched forward with Sister Bagdona bringing up the rear. Two stray passengers tried joining them, but Sister Bagdona waved them off. They stood like statues of stone. Hours later, they awakened before a group of airline officials demanding to see their visas and passports.
Tongue-tied and confused, they could only point to the now empty plane locker and shrug their shoulders upon further questioning by the police.
On board the plane, Father Valorous and Sister Bagdona arranged the group so that children, teens, and adults sat in different parts of the plane. The teens and children were placed by the exits while the rest of the adults sat in the rear of the plane. Father Valorous walked into the cockpit and stared at the unoccupied seats of the pilot and co-pilot. Sister Bagdona joined him.
“We’re going to fly this baby ourselves?”
“Not likely. Father Tairino said they would show up just before we’re cleared for takeoff by the tower.”
“And, you believed him?”
“Father Tairino isn’t a stupid man. Deluded perhaps, but not stupid. He assured me that everything was under control.”
Sister Bagdona’s eyes scanned the fight deck and then swung them back toward Father Valorous. Sighing, she folded her arms across her chest and held them there before making the sign of an upside down cross.
“If you say so. They should be arriving . . .”
“Hello, everyone aboard?”
Two women pilots walked into the cockpit. Settling their gear and themselves into their respective seats, they greeted Father Valorous and Sister Bagdona. The pilot spoke first.
“You must be Father Valorous. Father Tairino said you’d be waiting for us in the belly of the beast. Quite a sense of humor for a priest.”
Valorous eyed them both. He noticed they had a flight plan. Sister Bagdona craned her neck, trying to see the flight pattern. She reached forward and tried turning the paper her way so she could read it better.
“Is that necessary?” the co-pilot asked. “We’ll get you there before midnight. We know how touchy you people get if you don’t get there after dark.”
“There are black-out curtains covering the windows. We made sure of that,” the pilot said. “The last group we flew we used the pull-down shades, and some got stuck open.”
“We haven’t heard the end of that since it happened,” the co-pilot added.
“I’m sure we’ll be fine. We like sunrises and sundown’s equally,” Father Valorous said.
The two pilots shrugged, and busied themselves at the controls.
“If you two will please take your seats, we can take off.”
“We’re legit?” Sister Bagdona asked. “That will be a first. I didn’t think we needed anyone’s permission to leave this God-forsaken place.”
“Now, now Sister, let’s speak good of the undead. They just don’t understand us. Let’s get everyone buckled up and then we can eat.”
“Drink, if you prefer. I assume that Father Tairino planned for our supper tray?”
“They brought it aboard,” the co-pilot said.
“All of our stewards are placed out, otherwise we’d be enjoying some fresh meat,” the pilot added.
Father Valorous and Sister Bagdona closed the cockpit door behind them and walked up the aisle and settled in to the first class seats.
“Everyone buckle up,” Valorous shouted.
Behind them, the belts snapped shut. The plane darkened momentarily, and then with a rush of air beneath them, the plane rolled down the runway and took off.
At the Chiapas airport, Gabrielle Tairino streaked into the terminal. He paused long enough to read the incoming flights on the screen before joining the line for security inspection. The line moved as the visitors showed their ID and emptied their pockets in front of the security guards. Tairino noticed a metal frame structure that stood midway between the guards and the rest of the terminal. He watched as each person strode into the mid-section of the metal frame structure, held up his or her arms and paused for five seconds before leaving the metal structure.
“What is that thing?” Tairino asked.
“An x-ray machine,” a young woman said behind him. “It’s the city’s way of making sure that no weapons get brought into the terminal near the airplanes.”
“A new policy,” an older man standing in front of him. “You’ve got nothing to fear except fear itself.”
Trembling, Tairino emptied his pockets into the plastic containers placed before him by one of the female guards. She watched him as if he as a bug under a microscope with an unknown virus. Tairino kept his eyes lowered and concentrated on taking out every metal object he’d collected in Chiapas. The silver cross glimmered in the plastic basket.
“Is that thing for real?” the female guard asked.
“Very much so,” Tairino replied. “It was a present from my Spanish class for teaching them the language.”
“Some class. Must be Americanos. Their kids are richer than God.”
The guard laughed. Tairino moved past her and walked into the metal cage as his inner voice called it.
“Stand straight and face the camera, please.”
A whirring noise emitted from the cage. Tairino sucked in his breath and counted the passing seconds. The security guard eyes bulged. Four thin, slender bones attaching to the hand and arm arched outward forming a compressed wing. The humming of the machine stopped. Tairino stepped out.
“One moment please. I didn’t get a clear picture. Step back in. It will only take a second,” the guard said.
Tairino shrugged and strode back into the frame area. The guard twiddled the knobs and the machine hummed at a higher pitch this time. Facing the guard, Tairino sucked in his breath a second time, but also compressed his wings so that they disappeared into his thickened skeleton. This time the guard dragged the female guard and pushed her face first against the machine’s protective glass.
“Tell me what you see!”
“I see a man’s torso. Was there something else here that I’m missing?
The security guard scanned the x-ray. He saw nothing but a man’s torso as well. Shrugging, he turned the knobs off and sat deflated on his stool.
“I thought I saw. . . Never mind. It’s gone now. You can go now,” the security guard said.
Tairino smiled and walked out toward the gate where Father Valorous and Sister Bagdona were going to arrive in fifteen minutes.
The seated security guard motioned to one of the handlers watching the bags and baggage’s pass through via the conveyor belt.
“I’ll be right back,” he said. “Something ain’t right.”
He removed his nightstick from his belt and strode down the terminal’s hallway, his eyes scanning both sides of the building. He looked for that last visitor whom he scanned twice. Something had caught his eye and now he had to prove to himself that this man posed a danger. Also, an arrest of a violator would get him that pay raise his family so needed and perhaps his son Jesus would come home to stay this time.
No one caught his attention. The guard stopped walking and turned around, his eyes targeting each visitor as they ate, talked, stretched, listened, or looked out the glass windows at the incoming planes. All looked innocent and non-threatening. He continued to walk down the crowded corridor. People slept on the seats with white wires dangling from their ears and disappearing into their pockets.
At Gate Six, Tairino willed himself invisible. The security guard’s eyes darted past him and settled on another passenger, who was stretching his legs and yawning. The man stood up and faced the guard. Their eyes met and locked.
“Anything I can do for you officer?”
The guard studied the man’s face.
“Been here all night?”
“Missed my plane. Waiting for the next one so I can get home.”
Tairino watched as the man and the security guard sparred. Glancing at the terminal’s clock Tairino noted that Father Valorous’ plane should be landing in five minutes. He edged closer to the gate. Behind him, the guard continued his interrogation of the man. Tairino ignored them and concentrated on the passengers soon to come.
The plane landed and taxied to the gate. Father Valorous led his group up the aisle and onto the ramp leading into the terminal. Yawning and rubbing their eyes, the kids followed behind him. Behind the kids, Sister Bagdona nudged the adults to their feet and herded them toward the door. Smiling, the co-pilot waved to them as they exited the plane.
Father Valorous strode into the building, his eyes searching for Gabrielle Tairino, and found him standing with outstretched arms and a hug smile plasted on Tairino’s face
“Good to see you,” Father Valorous said.
Tairino shook his head in warning and nodded toward the security guard and his captive, the tired man. Father Valorous saw the nightstick held by the guard and the squirming man who answered his questions. Neither looked happy. Tairino shifted his eyes to his left and jerked his shoulders. Father Valorous nodded yes once and waved his hand toward Tairino, the security guard and the man.
Planting his directions in the minds of his followers, he whispered to Sister Bagdona’s ears alone.
“Go to the left of that guard with the club and wait until Gabrielle and I can join you. Keep your hood up and your faces covered.”
Tairino dipped his head. Behind him, the security guard and the man stopped arguing. Knowing he had the wrong man, the security guard shoved his club back into his belt and left, not bothering to look for that mysterious man with the suspicious x-ray.
Father Valorous sidled up to Tairino and whispered.
“What was that all about?”
“My wings. He caught a glimpse of them. The second time he took a picture of me, I made sure that I kept my wings compressed.”
“He wasn’t sure, huh? Must’ve startled him. No wonder he was giving that guy the third degree. Better him than you.”
“I caused a rumpus. And, that man got caught. He seemed to handle it well enough.”
“The yawning helped,” the man said. “It made me look stupid with sleep.”
He picked up his briefcase and brushed past them without a glance.
“So much for brotherly love,” Father Valorous said.
“Let’s collect your brood and head out. The sun is rising. Its gets hot real fast so we best make tracks.”
Sister Bagdona joined them with the rest of the adults. She heard the tail end of the conversation between Tainino and Father Valorous.
“Does anyone melt from this heat?”
“The women parade in bikinis. Mostly burned flesh.”
“Must be quite a sight to see blistered skin and mottled blood. I’ll warn the children not to drool.”
I brought a refrigerated truck. Dark and cool, just the way you like it.”
Both the Father and Sister eyed him, but it was the novice who spoke for all of them.
“You think of everything.”
“Not quite. I’m still not sure where you’re being housed. Roberto’s hacienda is a great place, but his wife, Elena, is too sensitive.”
“Are there any cemeteries here?” Father Valorous asked.
“Or a bell tower?” added Sister Bagdona.
“There’s a Spanish church that was built in 1572. It’s called the Iglesia de Santo Domingo. It has a bell tower, but tourists still climb its stone steps to get to the top and look at the view. I’ve heard it’s got a great view of Chiapa de Corzo and the Grijalva. It might be a good perch until other arrangements are made. What do you think?”
“Tourists? Like the Transylvania’s tourists?” Sister Bagdona said.
“Nope, don’t think so. Drugs and cattle money speak loudly down here, along with sugar crops,” Tairino said.
“In other words, we’ll be safe until the secret police come,” the novice said.
“Or the militia,” Sister Bagdona added.
“Or the homeland vampires dispute our claims,” Father Valorous said.
“You’ve heard of them?” Tairino said.
“I know of them. Our history is rich with their traditions. I suggest we go through customs and then head out to the truck. I’m an old man and tired from all this unnecessary emotion. Lead on McDuff. Lead on.”