Terry Hunter sat in the LAX departure lounge with his wife Carla and good friends Ross & Linda. Despite their brief walk from the International Club Lounge to the departure gates, each displayed levels of fatigue as they waited to board their 11pm flight.
Flying time was estimated at fourteen hours, so the upside to their late night departure was that after what Terry hoped would be some restful sleep in his first-class airbed, they would arrive in Sydney, Australia around 7am.
International travel was nothing new to Terry. Running a global on-line enterprise often required regular international travel to source new suppliers and products. Yet in all his travels and business successes, this would be his first opportunity to venture down under to Australia.
The uncomfortable departure-lounge chairs were a stark contrast to the leather lounge chairs he earlier relaxed in while enjoying the pre-flight hospitality of the First-Class lounge.
While he waited to board, Terry observed the other passengers seated around him in the rows of uncomfortable plastic chairs. The majority of them, regardless of age and gender, had their focus on a laptop, tablet or phone, presumably availing themselves to the airport’s free Wi-Fi as a time distraction while they waited.
Terry noticed the Flight Attendants had gathered around the door to the plane’s air-bridge, setting things up ahead of boarding. ‘Looks like we may start boarding soon…’ he said.
When he caught Ross’ eye, Ross lifted his chin towards the six dark-suit wearing men waiting next to the departure lounge counter. ‘This looks interesting,’ Ross said. ‘What do ya think...? Security, or Feds?’ he asked Terry.
‘Dunno…’ Terry said. He continued to regard the men. ‘They look more like Feds to me… They have that secret service type of intense glower,’ Terry said. ‘All that’s really missing are the dark glasses.’ He chuckled at his own comment.
‘Wonder what’s goin’ on,’ Ross said with his gaze fixed on the men. Their collective body actions were giving nothing away.
‘Maybe they’re waiting on a plane coming in…you know, to grab someone as they disembark,’ Terry offered.
‘Mmm…Maybe,’ Ross said.
Fortunately it wasn’t long before the female Flight Attendant announced the commencement of boarding for their flight. First Class passengers were called forward for priority boarding.
Terry gently woke Carla. She sat upright in her seat. The dark rings under her reddened eyes were a reminder she was up well passed her usual bed time.
They scooped up their carry-on luggage and moved to present their boarding passes for scanning.
Ross and Linda moved through first. Ross stopped at the air-bridge door and waited while Terry and Linda scanned their boarding passes.
Terry smiled at the attractive Flight Attendant as he handed up his boarding pass. She returned his smile. She paused ahead of scanning the pass. Her eyes were filled with concern as they lifted to meet Terry’s curious gaze. Terry frowned back at the delay.
Such was his concern over her reaction he didn’t notice her focus move over his shoulder, where she gave an almost indiscernible nod of her head before returning her focus to Terry’s boarding pass, still held in her hand.
‘Is everything alright…?’ Terry asked. The flight Attendant didn’t answer. ‘Is there something wrong with my boarding pass…?’
After noticing the delay from his side of the scanning point, Ross approached the scanning podium. Typical of First Class passengers, he was not accustomed to unnecessary delays. ‘What’s the hold up here…?’ Ross asked.
The Flight Attendant held a hand up to Ross. ‘Please stay back over there, Sir,’ she said jabbing a firm point towards the air-bridge door. Ross’ mouth inverted at the abrupt reaction as he reluctantly complied with her direct instruction.
Terry’s frowning gaze met Carla. She shrugged her lack of understanding over why they were being delayed. Terry shook a confused head.
A stern voice from behind Terry announced, ‘Terry Hunter…’ Terry turned towards the voice.
One of the dark suit wearing men whom he earlier watched, held up an FBI identification wallet to Terry. Terry’s confused eyes flicked from the ID to the five other people in suits standing two steps behind him.
‘My name is Supervisory Special Agent Johnson from the FBI…’ he announced routinely. ‘I require you to come with me please, sir.’
‘I can’t. I’m sorry…’ Terry said with a gesture towards the air bridge. ‘I’m about to catch a flight to Australia with my wife and friends…’
The words had hardly left his mouth when someone from behind grabbed Terry's arms and forced them behind his back. He glanced over a shoulder at the FBI agent in the process of applying handcuffs to his wrists.
‘What the hell is going on here…?’ Terry protested. ‘Why am I being handcuffed? This is ridiculous.’ His wide eyes moved to Ross. ‘Is this you…? Are you doing this…?’ he asked. ‘Is this some kind of sick joke?’ Terry said.
As Terry’s agent, Ross often played the practical joker, so arranging such an elaborate prank before they flew out would not be beyond Ross and his network of connections.
Carla advanced towards Agent Johnson. ‘What do you think you’re doing? Release my husband immediately,’ she insisted. ‘You have no right to do this.’
The Agent held a hand up at Carla. ‘Stay back ma’am,’ Agent Johnson ordered. Carla froze on the spot. His intense glower was intimidating.
Terry’s questioning eyes flicked to Ross. Ross held his arms out to the side. ‘I have no idea Terry…’ Ross said, with a shake of his head. ‘Seriously. I don’t know what’s going on.’ The concern etched across Ross’ face was evidence enough for Terry; this was for real.
‘Terry Hunter…You are under arrest for murder,’ Agent Johnson said as he took a firm hold of Terry’s bicep. He read Terry his rights.
‘You’ve got to be kidding me…’ Terry said. ‘Please tell me this is a joke…’
Johnson led Terry away from the departure gate. The five FBI colleagues followed closely behind.
‘Whom am I supposed to have murdered…?’ Terry asked to anyone listening. ‘This is crazy.’
‘We’ll discuss it further back at our office,’ the agent said. His tone was matter of fact. ‘Do you understand your rights as I have just read to you?’
‘Yes. But I don’t understand why you are doing this.’
Terry glanced back over his shoulder to Carla. The firm grip of Agent Johnson limited his upper body movement. He called to his wife. ‘Carla…! Carla…!’ his voice was a mix of fear and desperation.
Carla sobbed while Linda comforted her. ‘What should I do…?’ she yelled back as Terry was led away.
‘Call Duane…’ Terry yelled back. ‘Tell him I’ve been arrested by the FBI for some reason… He’ll know what to do.’ Duane was their long-time Lawyer.
Carla, Ross and Linda’s blank expressions watched Terry being led away by six Federal Agents. Neither knew why Terry was arrested. Their much anticipated business trip-cum-holiday to Australia would now have to be put on hold.
Ross scanned the waiting passengers in the departure lounge. Many were filming Terry’s assisted departure on their mobile phones or tablets. That was not good for Terry. Once they all found out who they just witnessed being arrested, most of that footage would appear on social media sites, if it hasn’t already, and probably TV screens across the country.
Ross rubbed a concerned hand through his hair. ‘What the hell just happened…? What could he possibly have done to warrant his arrest by the FBI?’ Ross asked Carla, albeit rhetorically.
Linda stood with a comforting arm around Carla. Carla held a scrunched up tissue to her nose. She aggressively shook her head in response to Ross’ question. ‘I don’t know.’ Her voice was broken with grief.
Ross suggested to Carla and Linda they catch a cab home to Carla’s while he went to the FBI field office in LA to try and find out what the hell was going on.