Looking Over Your Shoulder

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chapter 4

drop cap aBE WALKED BACK INTO the terminal, looking around in confusion. The normally quiet rooms were in chaos. There were police and security everywhere. A cop in riot gear, minus the helmet, grabbed Abe by the arm, jabbing him in the ribs with a big, black, ominous-looking gun strapped around his neck and body. Abe looked at him, uncomprehending. “Who are you?” the cop demanded.

“I’m Abe,” he said.

“What’s your full name? What are you doing here?”

“Aberahama VanRaemdonck.”

“What?” he demanded, looking irritated.

“That’s my name. Aberahama VanRaemdonck.”

“Abraham…”

“Close. Aber-a-hama. Van-RAM-donk.”

“What kind of a name is that?”

“Well, it’s Belgian, actually. What’s going on?”

His question recalled the cop abruptly to his duty.

“What are you doing wandering around here? Where’s your security tag?”

Abe touched his chest and realized that he must have forgotten to put it back on when he had changed out of his apron.

“I… I guess I must have left it—” he gestured back out at the blacktop. “Do you want me to go get it?”

“No, you’re not going anywhere. Come with me.”

Still holding Abe by the arm with fingers like iron, the gun pressing into Abe’s side, the cop escorted him impatiently through the crowds of police and security and the barely controlled chaos of the airport. Hustling around a corner toward the administration offices, Abe caught sight of the other end of the runway, covered with emergency vehicles of all description, swarming with cops in black SWAT suits, yellow tape, and photographers.

“What happened?” Abe gaped.

The cop looked at him skeptically, shaking his head.

“Don’t try to play games with me,” he advised.

Abe shook his head.

“I’m not playing games. I don’t know what happened. Was there a crash?”

Abe tried to get a better view of what was going on through the window, but the cop continued to hurry him through the airport and back into the administration offices. As they got back to the bullpen, Abe saw Dennis, who was talking with another set of cops and some of the higher-ups. Dennis turned and spotted Abe.

“Abe! Are you okay?” he questioned. “I was worried that you got stuck in the middle of this—”

“What’s going—”

“No talking right now,” the cop hanging onto Abe snapped, pushing him past the bullpen and into a conference room.

“What—?” Dennis started, as he was pushed out of sight, and Abe didn’t catch anything more.

The conference room was quiet. It was full of police, many plain clothed, and some in full tactical gear like the one who had brought Abe in.

“Who’s this?” questioned an older man. He was completely bald. Probably he’d started shaving his head when it had started to thin. His eyes were piercing, an odd shade that hesitated between blue and brown. Dark green?

“Abrahama something,” the cop said. “No security I.D. He was out on the blacktop.”

“One of the missing,” the older cop commented. “Okay, put him in the room across the hall,” he pointed to one of the small meeting rooms. “Handcuffs and a guard at the door.”

“Wait a minute,” Abe protested. “Am I under arrest? What’s going on here?”

“You’re detained for questioning. That’s all you need to know.”

“What’s— I don’t understand what’s going on! What happened? What exactly do you think I did?” he questioned, panicked.

“I’ll come discuss it with you,” the bald cop told him.

“Who are you?” Abe demanded, resisting the pressure of the riot cop trying to push him into the other room.

“Special Agent Baxter Lovett,” the bald cop introduced himself. “Now go along quietly and I will be in to talk to you. If you resist, things will go very badly for you.”

Abe stared at Lovett blankly, trying to understand what was going on.

“Let’s go, Abrahama,” the younger one said, and tugged him across the busy room into the smaller one that Lovett had indicated. He pushed Abe in the door. “Put your hands on the table there,” he ordered. Abe put his hands down uncertainly, and the cop dragged his feet back and out wide, throwing him off balance. “Right there like that. Hold still.”

Abe stood there, frozen, while he was frisked. The cop took his keys, wallet, and everything from his pockets and felt carefully for any weapons. He stood Abe back up, pulling his hands behind him and handcuffing them.

“Have a seat. You’ll probably be waiting a while.”

With that, he left the room, shutting the door. There was no viewing window to see if the cop remained outside the door on guard, but Abe supposed that he did, or called someone else to. He sat down heavily and tried to puzzle out what was going on. There had been a lot of emergency vehicles and personnel, but no wreckage, so it must be something other than a crash landing. Besides, there wouldn’t be so many cops for a crash landing. Lots of firemen, but not cops. But today was September 11. It had to be a terrorist attack or threat of some kind. That must be it. A bomb threat. An attempted hijacking. It was nothing to do with him; he only needed to answer their questions and explain when they came back, and they’d know that he wasn’t a terrorist and let him go.

Abe’s thoughts raced. He wished that the cop hadn’t taken everything out of his pockets, including an emergency dose of anti-anxiety pills that he was now feeling a very keen need for. He started to sweat. His heart pumped hard and fast, like he’d just woken up from a nightmare. He tried to distract himself by looking out the window, but it just looked at the back of one of the hangars, not out on the runway He couldn’t see what was going on. It just made Abe more anxious to know that something was going on out there, not being able to see it. He had a creepy feeling like someone was watching him. He kept looking over his shoulder and around the room to make sure that there was no way that he could be observed. Sweat ran down his forehead, and he tried to brush it away with his shoulder, but with his wrists manacled together behind him, he couldn’t manage it.

Unable to sit still any longer, Abe got up and paced across the room. At first, the motion helped. He didn’t feel so creeped out and anxious, once he was on his feet and moving around. And the back and forth movement as he paced across the room was soothing. But after a while, the anxiety just grew again, and even moving around, he couldn’t keep calm. Eventually giving in, he went up to the closed door and kicked it. The door was opened by another policeman, this one in a city cop uniform, young, tow-headed, his blue eyes bright, alert, excited.

“What is it?” he demanded.

“I need… I need a drink of water,” Abe tried.

“You’ll have to wait,” the boy said, starting to shut the door again.

“No!” Abe exclaimed, and stuck his foot in the crack to prevent him. “No, look… the other officer, the one who searched me. He took some pills out of my pocket. I need them. Right away.”

“What pills?”

“A prescription bottle that was in my pocket. You can’t withhold medication. I need it.”

The boy looked him over, chewing on this for a while.

“What kind of medication?” he questioned.

“For anxiety. It’s getting claustrophobic in there. I need my pills. Please.”

“I’ll have to ask someone. Get your foot out of the door.”

Abe reluctantly withdrew. He went over and sat on the chair again. If they were watching him, maybe with a hidden security camera, he wanted to show them how cooperative he was being. Show them that he was not a threat and was someone that could be reasonable. He wiped his face on his shoulder again. His shirt was getting damp. Though he tried to stay in the seat for a while, he again found that it was impossible to sit still. He got up and started pacing again, quickly, chanting a count under his breath to try to calm and distract himself.

The time crawled by. It must have been an hour before the door opened again, and the young cop let in Lovett.

“Please sit down, sir,” Lovett told him a little sharply.

Abe tried to show he was compliant. He sat down, bouncing his knees and swallowing strenuously, trying to appear calm and relaxed. Lovett sank down into another chair.

“Did you get my pills?” Abe questioned, in the lowest, calmest voice he could find.

“What exactly are you so anxious about?” Lovett returned.

“I’m being held by the police for questioning on something I don’t know anything about,” Abe said, keeping his voice even and reason. “That’s sort of worrying. Most people would be anxious.”

“But most people don’t carry around anti-anxiety medication with them. What would you need that for?”

“I have an anxiety disorder,” Abe said elliptically. “Sometimes I get anxious over nothing. Or over little things that wouldn’t bother other people.” Sweat poured down his face and down his back as he struggled to explain himself.

Lovett nodded, without commenting, as if he was waiting for something more.

“I didn’t do anything,” Abe said. “Can you please tell me what’s going on? You said you would tell me.”

“Didn’t you want your pills?”

“I do. And to know what’s going on! If I could just get out of here…”

“You’re not going anywhere,” Lovett said, shaking his head seriously. “Not for a long time. And then… maybe a smaller room than this.”

“You can’t arrest me for no reason. I don’t understand what’s going on.”

“You’re not under arrest. Yet. Just being detained. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”

“I don’t have any idea. I was out in the plane. I came back inside, and there are police everywhere. Then that policeman stopped me and brought me here to you. That’s all I know. I have no clue what’s happening.”

“No clue.”

“No. I thought… maybe a bomb threat or hijacking or something. But I’m not involved in anything. Talk to Dennis. Talk to the management. I’m supposed to be here. I haven’t done anything.”

Lovett sat studying him, his face a picture of calm; completely relaxed and in no hurry to fill Abe in. Waiting for Abe to say something to incriminate himself.

“I need my medication,” Abe begged. “You can’t withhold medication.”

Lovett pulled the pill bottle out of his pocket and put it on the conference room table.

“I called the prescribing physician,” he said slowly. “He said it wouldn’t harm you if you didn’t get them right away. It would just make you… uncomfortable.”

Abe’s jittery legs couldn’t take the sitting any longer, and he bounced back up again. Lovett shifted towards him, his expression tightening, until he saw that Abe was just pacing again, not trying to attack or escape. Lovett leaned back in his chair again, relaxing, and observed Abe through lowered lids as Abe tried to avoid having a full-blown meltdown.

“What do you do here, sir?” Lovett questioned. He looked down at the file in front of him. “Can I call you Abe?”

“Yes. Yes, sure. That’s what I go by. Sure.”

“And what do you do here? You’re not an airport or airline employee.”

“No, I’m a consultant. For the airline. Food services. Nutrition. I’m independent.”

“How long have you been consulting for the airline?”

“Umm… two. Two years, I think. It was June. Now it’s September. Two years.”

“Enjoy the job?”

“Yes. Why— what does any of this have to do with anything? Can’t you tell me what’s going on?”

“Make good money?” Lovett persisted, refusing to answer any questions.

“Yeah, pretty good.”

“Do you work here full time?”

“No. I have several different clients. Different projects. Here sometimes. At the prison sometimes. School lunch programs. Other institutions.”

Lovett wrote a couple of notations in a small notepad.

“And what were you doing here today?”

“It’s a new project. I’ve been working on it for a few weeks, but I’ve sort of been planning it for a while now. It’s a gourmet food service for the airline, where your meal is made to order in the cabin. Lots of options to customize your meal, different meats or vegetarian, spicy or mild, choice of carbs and sides, just like you’re at a restaurant, but everything is prepared right there in the cabin, or a small galley if one is available.”

Lovett nodded.

“And what exactly were you doing today? Why were you out on the tarmac, in a plane?”

“I have to make sure that everything works, that it’s feasible. I’m quite detail-oriented,” Abe stopped pacing for a moment, starting to calm down now that he was talking about something he enjoyed rather than about what was happening to him or might happen to him. “A lot of people, they might just prepare the packages and say to the airline ‘there, it’s done, here are your instructions.’ But I have to test drive it. Make sure that it works without any problems. Get into the airplane cabin and feel the space constriction, find out what the physical roadblocks are that might cause any difficulty with the program delivery. Say you want a spicy curry. So I’m preparing it beside you and I open the spice package to mix into your curry, but there’s an air current in the wrong place, and when I’m opening the spices, they blow into your eyes! Cayenne pepper in your eyes hurts like hell, and it can do real damage,” Abe explained. “You don’t want a medical emergency mid-flight because the program provider didn’t test everything out!”

“So you get on the plane, and you make meals, testing out various scenarios.”

Abe nodded.

“All by yourself. No supervision whatsoever. On a plane on the tarmac,” Lovett summarized.

“Well… yes. I had all my clearances. What could I do on the plane that would hurt anyone? I’m preparing food! The cockpit’s locked, so is anything else I don’t need access to. What am I going to do?”

“You don’t have anyone to verify your story. To say that you were preparing food the whole time.”

“No. But I was. You can check the plane, and see my equipment and the various tests so far.”

“I’m sure it is all set up to appear as if you’ve been busy. But that doesn’t mean that you didn’t ever leave the plane.”

“To do what?” Abe demanded. “Why would I do anything else?”

“Where is your security badge?”

“I told the other guy. I must have left it on the plane. I had to change out of my apron, and I must have left it pinned to the apron on the plane. We can go back and get it, and you can see that I have clearance.”

“Oh, I believe you have clearance. You claim to be obsessive about details, but you make a big flub like that? Leaving your security badge on the plane?”

“No… I’m obsessive about the details of my project, which makes me absentminded about things like leaving the security badge on my apron. I wasn’t thinking about badges, I was thinking about food, and how to prepare it, and all of the issues that needed to be considered.”

“And you didn’t see or hear anything that was going on outside the plane?”

“They’re pretty airtight,” Abe pointed out nervously. “You can’t really hear anything going on, once the doors are closed. And with the air on… I was focused—”

“On your little project. Yes. Very focused, and didn’t see or hear anything else. Do you know how hard that is to believe?”

Abe’s shoulders slumped. He eyed the medication on the table.

“I can’t help it if you don’t believe me,” he said miserably. “That’s where I was, and what happened, and there’s nobody else to verify it. Are you putting me under arrest? If you are, will you at least tell me what for? What happened here today?”

“Why don’t you sit down?”

Abe closed his eyes.

“I can’t. I can’t stand to sit still right now. Was it terrorists? What happened?”

“What makes you think it was terrorists?” Lovett questioned.

“The date,” Abe said incredulously, his eyes widening.

“The date?”

“Nine eleven.”

Lovett raised his brows.

“Ah. So it is. So you made the leap; nine eleven, airport, lots of cops, must be terrorists.”

“Well, yeah.”

“In fact, it was nothing to do with terrorists. It was a jewel heist.”

Abe looked at him blankly, feeling a little let down. No bomb. No terrorists. It was all about jewels?

“Jewel heist,” he repeated, coming to a stop. He shook his head. “What would I have to do with a jewel heist?”

“Someone on the inside did. And you were out of sight, unaccounted for, apparently oblivious to the whole drama.”

“But, why would I…?”

“Money,” Lovett pointed out. “What else?”

“For money,” Abe repeated. He motioned to the medication sitting on the table, out of his reach. “I can’t stand to be in this room right now, and you think I would risk going to prison? For something like money?”

“I’ve seen all kinds. Some people don’t know how they’ll react. Some people get a kick out of it. Some people are just really good actors,” he said flatly, looking Abe in the eye.

Abe considered his own state, and couldn’t believe that Lovett would think it was an act. Sweat pouring off of his forehead and down his back, armpits ringed with sweat, the stink of stress and fear. That couldn’t be faked. Lovett had to know that he wasn’t just acting.

“You can search me,” he said. “I don’t have any jewels on me.”

“Of course not. The thieves left with the jewels. You are the inside man, no one would leave you with any, let you get caught red-handed. You’d get paid off at a later date, probably in an offshore account, having never touched the jewels.”

“How did they do it? How did they get the jewels and get away?” Abe questioned.

“Interesting questions. Did you know that jewels were transported through this airport regularly?”

“How would I know that? I’m not even an airline employee! Just a consultant. And I only consult on food, nothing else. I don’t know any of the inner workings, I swear.”

Gazing at Abe, Lovett slid a small tin of mints out of his pocket and put one in his mouth.

“Trying to kick the habit,” he explained unnecessarily. “Do you smoke?”

Abe’s hands started to shake. He licked dry lips.

“I used to,” he said. “I don’t anymore… except talking about it now… I’ve got a helluva craving.”

Lovett nodded, whistling air in and out through pursed lips.

“How long has it been?”

“Most of fifteen years… a few brief relapses, with stressful situations.”

“Fifteen years. That’s a long time.”

“My little girl. She’s got asthma. She’s ultra-sensitive, even if I smoke outside; I come home and it’s on my clothes. So… I want to protect her.”

“Good man,” Lovett acknowledged. “Better than me.”

“If you saw my daughter… well, all it takes is setting off a bad asthma attack once, because you gave her a hug… I couldn’t do that to her. She was so helpless, she’d start gasping, wheezing…”

Abe licked his lips again. Wishing for a drink, a pill, or one of those little mints, but really for a cigarette. When were they going to let him go home?

“Why don’t you have a seat?” Lovett suggested again, in a friendlier tone this time.

Abe just stood there, hanging his head, breathing, exhausted, but unable to sit and calm himself.

“Can’t you let me take my meds,” he pleaded again. “Good grief, a drink of water! Something! My chest hurts. Everything hurts.”

He rolled his head and shoulders, trying to ease the tension in his muscles.

“Your chest hurts,” Lovett repeated. “Do you have a heart condition?”

“No… it hurts to breathe. My heart is racing, can’t you hear it? It’s all across my chest, my shoulder.”

Abe against shrugged his left shoulder, trying to work the muscle loose. Lovett stood up abruptly and went over to him. He grasped one of Abe’s wrists and took his pulse. Abe felt him unlock and release the handcuffs. Abe brought his hands around in front of him, clenching and unclenching them, stretching his sore muscles, rubbing his arm and his chest. He wiped his sweat-soaked face.

“Sit down,” Lovett told him. “And don’t tell me no, this time. Take one of your pills.”

Abe fell into a chair and picked up the bottle. His hands shook as he tried to open it, and he fumbled unable to get the lid off. Lovett took it from him and pulled it open, muttering. “Stupid doctors. What do they know?” Reading the dosing instructions on the label, Lovett shook two out into his palm and handed them to Abe.

“Do you need water?”

Abe popped them into his mouth.

“I can swallow them without,” he said. “But I could really use one…”

Lovett went to the door and spoke to the police guard.

“A cup of cold water,” he ordered lowly. “And put it in a paper cup, not a glass.”

The policeman nodded and went to obey. Lovett went back to Abe and studied him intently.

“How long do those things take to work?” he demanded.

“A little while. Better if I take them before it gets too bad. I don’t know how long it will take when it’s this bad. Or if it will.”

Lovett’s dark green eyes were intent, drilling into Abe.

“You’re looking quite gray,” he commented.

Abe nodded tiredly. He didn’t know how he could be so tired and yet so anxious and unable to be still at the same time. He let his head drop forward, and tapped a staccato beat on the table. The policeman brought in a cup of cold water, and Abe downed it in one long draught.

“Do you need anything, sir?” the policeman asked Lovett.

“Bring me his personal items. Mr.—” Lovett looked at his folder again, “Van—,” he studied Abe’s name with a frown.

“Van-RAM-donk,” Abe enunciated for him. “Most people just go with VanRam.”

“Bring me Mr. VanRam’s personal items,” Lovett told the policeman.

“Yes sir.”

The young officer left the room again. Abe played with the lip of the paper cup, wishing he hadn’t drunk it quite so fast. He tapped the table again, trying to lose his anxiety in the rapidity of the beat. In a few minutes, the policeman brought in Abe’s wallet, phone, keys, and other bits, and handed them to Lovett. Lovett opened the wallet and pulled out Abe’s ID, glancing at Abe’s face as he examined the driver’s license. He raised his eyebrows.

“It’s your birthday,” he said in surprise.

“Nothing good happens on September 11,” Abe said disconsolately.

“Well, this will be one to remember.”

Lovett put Abe’s cards back into his wallet. He turned on Abe’s phone and glanced over it, then handed it to Abe.

“You’ve got a daughter. I assume that’s your wife that’s been texting you,” he said. “Call her.”

Abe looked at his phone for a minute.

“And tell her what?”

“Tell her to come here.”

“Am I… Are you letting me leave?”

“I’m still deciding what to do with you,” Lovett said gravely.

Abe decided he’d better take what he could get. He hit the speed-dial for Ursula and waited. Ursula was often busy on the phone and he would leave her a voicemail, but this time she answered before it even rang once.

“Abe? Abe, are you okay? This business at the airport is all over the news. They said that someone was killed. You’re all right?”

“Urs… you should come here.”

She swore under her breath.

“Are you okay? What happened?” she demanded, a catch in her voice.

“I’m okay,” he assured her. “Just not feeling well. So can you come?”

“Of course. I’ll be right there. At Dennis’ office?”

“Yeah, come to the bullpen. Just… ask for Lovett,” Abe looked at Lovett questioningly, and the agent nodded.

“I’m so worried, Abe. Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yes. I wasn’t there. I’m not hurt or anything.”

“You sound… weird. Hang tight; I’ll get there as soon as I can. Traffic’s gonna be a bear.”

“I guess it will,” Abe agreed. “Okay. So I’ll see you then, okay?”

They said their goodbyes and Abe pressed the ‘end’ button after a long pause.

“I’ll need to give some instructions to make sure she can get here,” Lovett observed. “Will you be okay for a few minutes? Are you feeling any better?”

Abe rubbed his sore chest and shoulder muscles tenderly.

“Yeah, I’m okay,” he said.

Lovett didn’t look reassured. He left the room, but he was barely gone long enough to make one phone call, before he was back in the room and studying Abe again.

The time crawled past. Lovett was not a talkative man, and it was unnerving for Abe to be watched so closely. They sat in awkward silence, and Abe found that the pain was gradually diminishing, his restlessness and anxiety slowly starting to fade. Finally, he heard Ursula’s voice outside the room, inquiring after Abe and Lovett. A policeman showed them in.

“Abe!” Ursula exclaimed, rushing to him, and they embraced tightly for a few minutes, murmuring soothing sounds to each other. Eventually, Ursula pulled back. “Abe, you look terrible. You’re a wreck,” she smoothed his dark, sweat-soaked hair back from his face. “What happened?”

Abe looked at Lovett, not sure what to say.

“You probably know more about the robbery than I do, if it was on the news,” he said. “They haven’t told me much.”

“Mrs. VanRam,” Lovett interposed, “I had Abe call you because I was concerned about his welfare. Like you said, he’s not looking too well. He was complaining of chest pains and racing heart. Does he have any heart condition or other health concerns that I should be aware of?”

Ursula pursed her lips, looking at Abe and trying to communicate silently with him. She saw his pill bottle on the table.

“He has anxiety,” she said. “It’s probably an anxiety attack. Triggered by the robbery and all of the stress. Did he take his pills?”

“Yes. Before he called you. Should he go to the hospital or be seen by a doctor?”

Ursula considered.

“The best thing is probably just for him to go home and go to bed,” she said. “The hospital isn’t the best place to try to relax and calm down.”

“And you’re not worried about a heart attack.”

“No. His heart’s always been good.”

Lovett sat back, squinting at Abe and thinking.

“Okay,” he said finally. “I will release him to you. But Mr. VanRam…”

“Yes, sir?” Abe questioned weakly.

“I expect to be able to find you. You’re at home or you’re at work. Don’t leave town.”

Ursula looked from Abe to Lovett incredulously.

“Is Abe a suspect?” she demanded, her voice rising.

“Yes, he is,” Lovett agreed flatly. “And it doesn’t look good. If you want to help him, you make sure he listens. Home or work. That’s it.”

“Or the hospital,” Ursula added.

Lovett nodded.

“Or the hospital,” he allowed.

“How could you think that he was involved in all that?” she questioned, shaking her head. “He’s not part of a gang. He’s not violent. He hates guns. I just can’t… think of anyone less likely to be involved in something like a violent jewel heist.”

“Even the people closest to us can surprise us,” Lovett said dryly. “And I have a suspicion that this one has lots of deep, dark secrets. Am I right, Mr. VanRam?”

Abe swallowed.

“Everyone has secrets,” he said.

“Well, I’ll be interested in finding out yours. You will be coming to see me for some further questioning in a day or two. Count on it.”

“Yes sir,” Abe said.

“All right. Get out of here and go have a nap. I’ve got an investigation to run,” Lovett said gruffly.

Ursula gave Abe a hand up. Abe methodically picked up his personal items and put each neatly in its appointed place. He touched his chest.

“Oh, my badge. Can I go out and get it?”

“No,” Lovett said, as if the question was ridiculous and he couldn’t believe that Abe would even ask.

“Well, but what should I—”

“Come on,” Ursula encouraged, taking him by the arm and pulling him toward the door. “You can get that all sorted out later. Right now, we have to take care of you.”

“But—”

“No buts. Come.”

She pulled him out into the bullpen. It had quieted down a little, but there was still a lot of bustle and talk. Dennis made a beeline across the room.

“Abe! Are you okay?”

“He’ll be all right,” Ursula said. “I have to take him home, get him settled.”

“Okay. We’ll talk later, all right, bud? I can’t believe they think you had anything to do with this. I’ve been telling them that you’d never—”

“I’m sure everyone is a suspect right now,” Ursula observed, trying to deter him from pursuing the topic. “Even you. Let’s not jump to any conclusions.”

“Sure, Urs,” Dennis agreed, mollified. “Get a good sleep, Abe. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

Looking Over Your Shoulder

By P.D. Workman

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