People stood shoulder to shoulder in snaking lines. Where one would expect a healthy ambience—chatter amongst the too-quiet loudspeaker announcements—there were only scattered remarks. People declaring, ostensibly to no one, that they’d arrived, they’d be late. It was a circus-like rotation of folks from all over the world, speaking into their handsets. And they were present only in their world. In those handsets.
“Karjiel Donomak,” the man replied, turning his attention back to his airport interrogator.
“Purpose of your visit?”
“I am visiting some… friends. Yes, friends. To bring them a special book. A very old, ancient, mysterious—”
“Length of stay?”
“In human days?”
The airport customs officer looked up. “Excuse me?” He now noticed the tall man’s strange appearance; he resembled those creepy old black and white photos of Rasputin. Unkempt beard, menacing eyes, a large buttoned-up overcoat that draped down his ankles.
“My length of stay will likely be between six to seven days.”
“Do you have a return ticket?”
“We all have a return ticket. It simply depends where we are returning to…”
“Mmm-hmm.” The customs officer looked Karjiel up and down. “What is the address of your intended destination?”
“My destination…” Karjiel said while waving his hand in front of the man’s face, “it is of no interest to you.”
The customs officer looked drowsy; he heard the creeping crescendo of ringing in his ears; his forehead shined with perspiration. The longer he delayed stamping Karjiel’s passport, the sicker he felt.
Karjiel smiled. “Officer, are you feeling alright?”
The urge to stamp the passport was overwhelming. The man pressed the ink against the small blue booklet.
“Thank you, officer. Thank you.”
The ailments relented, and the man was relieved of both the nausea and the fever. It was as though the episode had never occurred. But it had. He thought of how casually he’d used his stamp. If it’s a problem let someone else deal with it. “Enjoy your stay.”
“Indeed I will.”
* * *
“Mister Donomak?” A squat middle-aged man was waiting for Karjiel outside of the terminal.
“Ah, you must be my driver,” Karjiel answered, rolling his Rs with a trill. “Yes, I am Karjiel Donomak. And you are…?”
“I’m Carl Magnum, sir. I’m your escort. Can I get your bags, sir?”
Karjiel nodded in response. Carl picked up the two leather duffels before leading the way to where he had parked. Carl opened the trunk of the Maybach and delicately placed the bags inside. He always made a point to show how gentle he was while handling luggage or suitcases from customers who had just gotten off a plane; broken or damaged items were the airline’s fault, not his.
Once in the back seat, Karjiel admired the interior of the luxury vehicle, running his hands along the laminate wood finish. He opened a small cabinet, inside of which was chilled vodka and two glasses. “Am I right in guessing these are for me, Carl?”
“Yes, sir. Please, enjoy.”
Karjiel nodded and poured some for himself before looking at the other glass. “Would you like some, Carl?”
Carl looked back to Mr. Donomak through the rearview. “Uh… I think it’s better that I don’t. You know, the cops don’t really let that stuff slide no more.”
“You know, drinking and driving.”
Karjiel laughed heartily. “Where I am from, when the mechanical carriage was first introduced, those fire-bellied steel beasts were rarely ridden without the driver and his passengers drinking wodka to make cheery their way.”
Carl smiled. “So, ah… when did they introduce the car—where are you from, Mr. Donomak?”
“Romania, my dear Carl. Romania.”
“When was the first car introduced in Romania?”
“A long, long time ago,” Karjiel answered, downing his glassful before swiftly refilling it from the chilled bottle.
Carl let out a soft chuckle.
“What’s so funny, Carl?”
“Well, it’s just… you don’t look so old, Mr. Donomak.”
“Why Carl, don’t you know? Appearances can be… sort of different from when you first see them.”
“You mean deceiving?”
Karjiel’s eyes narrowed with the widening of his grin. “Yes. Yes. That’s it, Carl. Appearances can be deceiving.”