Around this time last year, I began searching for a place where I could finally retire from the police department, where else but Florida? At the time, I was an active detective working on a case to case basis. The pay wasn’t that well but it was enough to put away for the day I did finally wanted to hang up the old hat, can’t forget about the pension. I took a week off and went to explore the southwest area of the sunshine state. I decided to take a flight from Philadelphia to Fort Myers. I searched for the best priced ticket on such short notice and found a round trip for 75 bucks. Not bad.
The airport wasn’t busy at all. The best feeling is walking through the security checkpoints and you aren’t standing in any lines. You are instantly next! The wait for the plane was long enough where I could sit at one of those bars, have a couple drinks, a bite to eat and then find a book to read on the plane at one of those shops along the terminals. Last time I found a book at the airport I ended up missing my flight because it was so good. Dan Brown’s The Davinci Code was in season. I grabbed that and headed off to the gate where my big jet plane was pulling up any minute now.
The airport to me was always nostalgic but also very antipodal. You see, my father was a pilot. He flew in the Air Force then went commercial after he decided to have yours truly. My whole life was filled with trips, lets say I grew up in an airport. Did you know there is a section of the airport that the general public doesn’t even realize is there? I’m telling you, and if you thought the stores in the general terminals were good for window shopping and eating, the “secret” terminal, as I would like to say, has some of the best names in the world there. It is like a completely different experience. I don’t ever get to see this side of the airport anymore. I slowly lost all of my connections as people retired and moved on with their lives. Bummer. It seems like it was just a dream and the “secret” terminal doesn’t even exist!
There were only a few handfuls of people waiting at the gate. After I just started getting into the book, the flight attendant told us we could board. I was one of the first ones on the plane. I smiled and said hello to the flight attendants that were always waiting by the cockpit. I walked by and I still took my assigned seat because I lucked out with already having picked out a good one on the internet. I got situated and started to watch the people all start crowding on. One after one, mothers and their kids, business man making expensive trips, and maybe a famous person? Most likely not. Out of all the flights I have been on, I have not met one famous person.
The plane was half empty by the time the crowd started to settle into their seats. The airplane was going through its regular safety discussions and instructional demonstrations when all of a sudden a man, who was in a hurry boarded the plane. One of those almost missed my flight types but he didn’t seem like the normal missed my flight type. He was dressed in all white without any luggage of anykind. He apologized and handed the stuardess his ticket and she said it was alright and to please take your seat we are getting ready to take off. She then pressed the button to close the door and latched it shut. I watched as the fellow made his way down the aisle. I was hoping he would be out of sight and out of mind. These planes already make me nervous as hell to begin with, even though I have flown hundreds of times. I looked him in his eye and I could see the uneasiness he had felt as well. He stopped and said, “excuse me sir, do you mind if I sit here, alongside the window?” Of course I did. The plane is half empty and you know nobody else is coming on the plane, the damn door is latched shut. Hell, the wheels were practically moving on the runaway by the time he was standing right next to me. And you want to sit right next to me? My luck, I guess the half empty plane with all of its empty rows wasn’t his cup of tea. The sweat from his brow ran down the side of his face onto his already soaked pajama collar. For a second I felt bad for him and agreed. I got up and let him sit down along side of the window, right ontop of the right wing of the plane. He sat down and put his seatbelt on. He could not sit still. He kept twitching, and making little movements, something was bothering him. I tried to ignore him but I found the corner of my eye always looking into his direction. I finally had a enough and I ask him, “Hey, are you okay?” He slowed his twitches and shaking down for a second and focus on what I was saying to him. “I’m scared of flying.” I grabbed a couple of nips from my jacket pocket and handed him one. He perked his lips on the tiny bottle and leaned forward and titled his head back. He revolted as the scotch burned his throat. He nodded with thanks and laid back in his seat and closed his eyes. He gripped both arm rests. I felt like I could relax a little now aswell. I opened up my book and started to continue reading the DaVinci Code.
Anything is possible, even when you least expect it! That is the one thing I learned from working for the police department for 30 years. The plane waited those couple of minutes in position on the run way, then it was full throttle. I thought about the feeling of retiring and how bittersweet it will be. From here on out I will be fishing and playing golf with a beer in my hand at all times. The excitement of takeoff started to wear off as we were starting to level out on top of the clouds. Finally, the seatbelt sign light clicked off, and the pilot started to talk to his passengers over the loudspeaker. “We will be arriving in sunny Fort Myers, Florida in about 2 hours and 5 minutes. Its 85 degrees and the sun is shining. You may now feel free to move about the cabin.” As soon as the pilot’s speaker turned off I heard the man sitting next to me unclick his seatbelt. I got up and out of his way. He looked as if he was going to puke.
I could hear the other passengers talking about the man. They were whispering all sorts of things, out of concern, they were worried, and unsure of him. Being a detective, I decided when he returned that I would do a little friendly interrogating. I felt it would only be natural, me sitting next to him and all. Will I ever be retired? I am already bringing my work with me. It never stops! A couple minutes went by and he started to make his way back to his seat. I got up and let him in, I looked around at everyone looking at him, like he was a sore thumb. “Feeling better?” I said. He nodded and looked back out of the window. Looks like I’m going to have to try a little harder. He’s definitely not a talker. “I’m Leo. You got a name?” He snapped his neck towards me. “Carl,” he said quietly as he leaned in. Got him on the hook, now all I have to do is reel him on in. “Are you heading home, or are you leaving home?” I could see his eyes as they widened, he replied “ Leaving.” Every question I asked I received a one word response, yet he had an answer for everything. He not once had a friendly or inquisitive question for me. I could see where this was going. I started to observe anything I could from him that would give me any clues to who he was. I used my book as a shield and moved it around so I could look in his direction but still act like I was changing my reading position. I could make a first initial and a last name that looked like it was written in permanent marker on his pants and his matching shirt. I’ve worked long enough to know where these came from. Prisons and Mental Asylums. My first guess was, Pennhurst. A looney bin up the river, a bit of a hike, but still close enough. Sure enough I saw part of the tag on the collar of his shirt. It was barely out, heck, it was out just enough for me get a glimpse where enscribed on the tag, stated Pennhurst Mental Instituition. The chills went through my spine. This place didn’t just have history, it was still making it. The worst of the worst would be sent here. I don’t blame Carl for wanting to escape. Those days they were using them as guinea pigs in the evil doctors experiments. If it weren’t people like him and some of the workers experiences it could still be happening. I felt for my snub nose revolver under my jacket. I didn’t want to cause a scene, besides this patient next to me was calm and just a little paranoid. My mind began to race the same speed as his.
I have never been in a situation like this. I felt as if I was in the Hitchcock hour or a Twilight Zone episode. The pressure was surmounting. Enough so, that I decided to get up myself and use the lavaratory. Look at me, don’t worry buddy, you will get a break soon. A million dollar house right on the water. I took out my snub nose revolver and opened up the cylinder. 6 shots. Check. I put the revolver back in its holster under my armpit. I ran the water and splashed my face. I decided to stall any action against the escapee until we were landing and safe on the ground. Too many lives were at stake to immediately make a scene. However, I don’t know what his own intentions were in being on the plane. Was he just trying to escape or something more sinister? I have no contact on the ground and the only other people that could help me right now is air marshalls who are flying undercover. Fuck, It will be easier to just detain him now. Maybe an air marshall is already onto them as well. It was hard to go and sit down next to a possible psychopath and be as I calm as I was. Each of these situations adds unheard of self control. I thought to myself, “ So a great night to escape a mental asylum huh? Love to see plans and goals coming into action.” A quick two and a half hour plane ride and then he will be sent back with an armed guard to his beloved hospital. Of course I would’t be telling the story if it was that simple. Of course that wouldn’t be interesting enough.
Turbulence. Man that can scared the hell out of anyone. That and lightning. It is deadly but only on some occasions. I don’t remember the first time I felt turbulence from an airliner, I became so used to it traveling with my father everywhere. Its like the rocking of a ship on the sea. The more the rocking the more dangerous it became. I got to feel for the guy, for the first time in his life he had got on a plane and for his first flight man I will tell you the turbulence was the worst I have ever felt. The pilot’s microphone clicked on, “Well now, we ran into a little turburlence as you may have felt, We are going by a storm about 10 to 15 miles to the east over the Atlantic, we should be all clear in a couple minutes, make sure to have your seatbelt fastened and stay seated.” As soon as he hung up the fasten seatbelt sign clicked on above everyone’s seats. Not Carl, right when that sign light when on he did the complete opposite. He nearly jumped over me and got to the aisle and ran as fast as he could to the lavatory. Yet he had opened the wrong door. He opened the one that led into the cockpit. The flight attendants all rushed over to tell him that he needed to be seated. Here we go. I saw one of the passengers get up and go help the flight attendants calm the situation down. As he leaned up I could see his federal air marshall badge on his belt along with a m9 berreta. The pilots were shocked and so was Carl. He panicked and opened the lavatory door as quick as he could which knocked the air marhall back and tripped along the barrier to the cabin where he went unconcious. Carl realizing whats going on grabbed the air marhshalls gun and took a step back and realized he couldn’t get out of this situation the easy way. “Fuck, oh fuck, what did i do? what did i do?” mumbling under his breath as the flight attendants all screamed and took a step back as he waved the gun around his surroundings. He may be crazy but he defintely wasn’t stupid. The flight attendants knew there were only two guns on board, loaded and carried by passengers, one being the air marshall who was on the ground unconcious, and you guessed it....me. They all looked at me in unison, like I was about to save the day, which of course I did. Carl, seeing this firsthand also glanced me in my eyes, but it was too late for him. My snub nose revolver was already smoking by the time he realized it.
Now as you could already imagine, the event was investigated, I had to resign, of course to Florida, and yet I was still hailed a hero and got my deserving pension. It turned out in my favor, Carl was an escaped Mental Asylum Patient from Pennhurst Mental Institution up the river from the Philadelphia International Airport, with a lengthy history. He had stolen a small boat and took his time getting to the airport. The authorities were never noticed of his escape. A week or so later investigators ended up finding a man who was killed at a near by rental car agency. A worker ended up finding him in the trunk of his own rental car. His I.D and boarding pass were missing, he even resembled Carl...
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