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A New Season
The engines on the big, 250-passenger jet whined as it ground to a halt outside the Cleveland airport. Jeremy stared out the window into the summer sun. Smoke pored out of some smokestacks at a near-by tank factory partial obscuring the sun. The plane taxied into a loading gate. The co-pilot came on the intercom and announced that passengers could unbuckle their seat belts and wait to exit the plane. Gathering up his one meager bag of gear, he sat in his chair tapping his fingers as he waited for the crew to prepare the plane so that the passengers could safely disembark.
Slowly passengers began to pour out of the plane and Jeremy forced his way into the mass of passengers. After exiting the tunnel he quickly scoured the waiting room. Large glass windows stretched out to his left and right as far as he could see. Furniture surrounded the thirty-foot area immediately in front of him. Beyond that was a large hallway, filled with bustling passengers, which ran the length of the terminal.
Jeremy made a ninety-degree turn to avoid the pile up of passengers exiting the plane. Picking his way between rows of furniture, he glanced back and noticed a blur as a a figure dressed in black ducked behind a group of people before Jeremy could get a good look at him. Jeremy's suspicions were raised but he kept a blank face and casually wove between furniture to elude the possible stalker. Glancing at the reflection in the big windows overlooking the runways, he observed the same black figure was still behind him, hiding behind a group of people. His recent experiences in the Middle East clouded his emotions but he let his training kick in. He kept up a steady pace before slipping behind a pillar and bracing himself for action. When nothing happened Jeremy glanced at the reflection on a metal plate of a chair beside the pillar, which revealed no sign of the mysterious person. He took several seconds to get up his nerve before thrusting himself forward into the crowd.
A slight rumble in his stomach reminded him how long it had been since he had last eaten and he cut a path toward a line of concession stands at the far side of the large walkway. He looked in every reflecting object that walked past him. He saw several pickpockets navigating the crowd looking for an easy target but he saw no trace of anyone trailing him. Checking the reflections off a rack of water bottles on the counter, he was able to see behind him without ever having to look back. He ordered a couple of hot dogs and a large pop and handed the cashier several crisp benjamins. He counted the meager few dollars of change while he waited for his food. A greasy bag of food was placed in front of him. Jeremy stepped to the side and shoveled the food into his mouth and washed it down by chugging the large pop.
He saw a quick movement off to the side of the cup. Whipping the cup down, he was able to see the back of a black figure slip behind one of giant pillars on the far side of the room. He tossed his cup in the trash and angled his way through the crowd. Jeremy focused in on the pillar and blotted out the crowd. Flanking it he approached from the side leaving the man nowhere to hide. Before Jeremy could reach him, the man darted into the crowd rousing a cry from some nearby passengers. Jeremy jumped into action, jogging after him. The two plowed through the crowd leaving a wake in the passengers. Jeremy struggled not to lose site of his target among the crowded airport. Every once in a while he would catch a glimpse of him a several dozen feet ahead. A large clump of people blocked Jeremy's path. He raced around them but more people blocked his path. He shouldered his way through teems of people. As he approached a major intersection the crowd began to bunch up. Jeremy desperately scanned the crowd but could not find a trace of his target. Just as he started to give up Jeremy saw the storage door at the far-left side of the intersection slam shut. Racing back up Jeremy shoved his way through the crowd reaching the door in a few seconds.
Jeremy cautiously stepped forward and turned the door handle, careful to keep his head, heart, and fighting hand back so that he would have a chance to counter-attack. People rushed by oblivious to the danger right next to them. He peeked through the crack where the door was hinged and saw that the long white hallway was empty. Closing the door behind him, he slowly but steadily walked down the hall. The only noise was the light din that made it through the door. Jeremy flexed his feet to quiet them and held his breath, but he could not hear anyone down the hall. The hall ended into a large metal staircase that descended several levels to a storage area. Jeremy descended down the stairs; every noise was amplified inside the thick, stony walls. He detected faint breathing up ahead but was unable to locate its source. He scanned every nook-and-cranny in the metal staircase frame but found nothing suspicious.
He made it safely around two landings and turned down the last set of stairs to the storage area. He prepared himself to enter the pitch-black storage room when he heard the metal creak behind him. Without hesitation he whipped his head around and saw his opponent launch a kick at his upper back. Jeremy twisted at the hips, keeping his hands close to his chest, and deflected the blow to the side. Without hesitation Jeremy chopped his leg at the shin of the man's other leg, knocking him to the floor. Jeremy took advantage of the time and turned to face his opponent. He grabbed his opponent's foot and yanked him up until he thudded against the wall with a bone-jarring impact. Before his assailant could fall to the ground Jeremy grasped his opponents left shoulder with one hand and pinned him against the wall, his feet dangling in the air. Jeremy choked his assailant’s throat with his other hand.
Gasping for air, his opponent stopped flailing his hands but let them fall limply to his side. "I'm sorry Jeremy! I shouldn't have followed you. Please don't kill me!"
Recognizing the voice Jeremy increased his grip, "What are you up to Jim?"
"I don't know what you talking about," Jim wheezed between gasping breaths.
"You can't tell me you’re at the airport to welcome me home!"
"Well, ah...what are you doing ba..."
Jeremy pressed harder on his throat. "Don't change the subject!"
"Okay, I was at the airport to meet somebody... But not you!" he added quickly, "one of my buddies in Canada-"
"Very funny," He wheezed and his eyes rolled back in his head. "I'm not lying," he said with great effort. Jeremy let go of his throat. Jim gasped in deep breaths for half a minute before his breathing finally began to normalize. Jeremy loosened his grip on Jim's shoulder so he could talk easier and motioned for him to continue."
"I - I',m here to meet Nick. He isn't even really my buddy! He's my friend's buddy. I'm just the unlucky one who was chosen to pick him up!"
"I feel so sorry for you." Jeremy said without much empathy. "What was he doing, running drugs?"
"No this is clean! He said that there was something suspicious going on and he had to get out of there."
There was a pause as Jeremy thought before continuing. "Like what?"
"He wouldn't explain anymore over the phone."
Jeremy was used to this kind of stonewalling and decided to turn the tables on him. "This really explains why you were following me."
"Dude, I'm sorry. I didn't expect you to back in town and I got carried away..."
Jeremy peered into his eyes, "You always come up with the stupidest excuses don't you. How about you saw me and thought you would even the score for all the times I've busted you!"
Jim couldn't hide a smirk, "Our we going to argue about motives? No harm, no foul is my motto."
Jeremy looked away in disgust, "How long until your friend arrives?"
"I don't know I can't see my watch." Jim shirked.
Jeremy sighed and let Jim slump to the floor. Jim slowly got up and turned to leave. Jeremy grabbed him by the shoulder, "I think you can see your watch now."
"Oh, you actually wanted to know when my friend arrive." Jim shrugged and looked down at his watch, "He was supposed to arrive ten minutes ago. I better go and meet him."
"You don't mind if I tag a long do you."
"No," Jim replied after rubbing his throat.
Retracing there steps they arrived at the place where there chase had begun. Jim indicated to a section just a short distance from where Jeremy's plane had departed. A new plane had already arrived and was loading for a flight to some city in the south. Jim pulled out a picture and they searched the nearby area but with no success.
Jim started to look a little nervous. Jeremy was equal concerned but for a different reason, and he decided to use Jim's nervousness to his advantage. "Don't look so nervous Jim. We're in a crowd of people I'm not going to do anything to you."
Jim gave a weak smile. Just the reaction Jeremy had hoped for.
"If you want to prove your innocence why don't you go to the information desk and see if your friend got on the plane."
Jim rushed off and Jeremy followed along at a leisurely pace. Jeremy leaned up nonchalantly on wall out of the range of security cameras and listened in.
"...Lets see... it is showing the 6:45 out of Montreal. Is that the right flight?" A female voice asked
"Yes Montreal. Did a Nick White board the plane?" Jim replied in one of the squeakiest, nervous voices Jeremy had ever heard him from him. Jeremy enjoyed Jim's fear but also knew the real danger.
"A Nick White is on the flight list." She replied.
"Can you tell if he actually boarded the plane?"
"I'm sorry, but I can't give out that information."
While they continued to argue, Jeremy whipped out a small square cellphone-like device about two inches in length and width, and less than an inch thick. With a few tapes on the screen Jeremy had hacked into the airliners web site and accessed the information for the flight. Just like the receptionist had said there was a Nick White on the flight list but no one by that name had entered the plane. Concerned, Jeremy opened up a Montreal newspaper website and did a search for Nick White.
Jim walked up while Jeremy was still searching. "I'm sorry Jeremy, that --"
"--When was the last time you heard from your Canadian friend."
"He called last night to confirm that I was going to pick him up. Why?"
Jeremy flipped up the device revealing a newspaper article which read: Man fatally shot while sleeping in his bed early this morning. Twenty-six year old Nick White was murdered by an unknown intruder while he lay in bed early this morning...
"Jim's face went pale but he did not react. Jeremy looked at his watch. He had spent enough time on this misadventure already.
"Sorry about your friend," Jeremy said and turned to leave.
"What should we do? That wasn't just some bum they killed, he was street smart. Whatever was bothering him must have been hot."
Jeremy looked him straight in the eye and studied him. Finally he commented, "there are forces at work here larger than you can imagine. If you want my opinion try to stay out of their way."
With that Jeremy turned toward the exit. He pressed the cellphone-like device up to his ear and immediately said, “I'm sorry that I am late. I was delayed." Looking up, he observed a sign that read: Exit Gate C. "Exit Gate C, thirty seconds." He called into the phone before hanging up. Hurriedly walking down the stairs of the busy airport, he moved without hesitation toward his destination. He swung open the big glass doors of the airport just as a black jeep with a wooden, flatbed trailer pulled up. Jeremy hopped on to the trailer and the driver sped on without ever coming to a complete stop.
The July sun was just beginning to heat up the pavement and Jeremy was glad for the cool breeze. He had to resist the urge to whip his recently buzz-cut hair, which had previously been a lot longer.
After riding for several minutes, they arrived at a gigantic hanger that currently housed several military cargo planes. Two men in U.S. military uniforms approached their vehicle. Jeremy jumped out of the trailer and casually approached them. An athletic looking young man with short, spiky black hair hopped out of the driver seat and joined Jeremy. The two greeted each other and turned to face the soldiers.
"I'm Jeremy Amery and this is my brother Eric." Jeremy announced as he shook hands with the two officers who introduced themselves as Officers Tom and Frank. Jeremy showed them his verification papers and the two officers motioned to a large military cargo plane. Jeremy thanked the men and walked back to the jeep. Eric took the drivers seat next to Will, one of Jeremy's friends, and Jeremy climbed into the back seat with his friend Justin. The two greeted each other, Jeremy was glad to see his friend and held the embrace for several seconds. The long, lonely nights surrounded by enemies had taken its toll, Jeremy knew his mission had been essential to preparing for the coming storm, but he was still relieved to be surrounded by friends.
The jeep pulled to a stop at the back of the cargo plane, which was as big as a football field.
Jeremy led the group up into the belly of the plane. The old metal body of the plane was dull and dark, not much light penetrated the small windows of the plane and the only real lighting was the large florescent lights in the ceiling. This cast lengthy shadows on the cargo, which consisted mainly of dirty tanks and cars returning for repairs from a long tour of duty in the desert sand.
Approaching a large bulky object covered in a tarp, he whipped the tarp off revealing a small camouflaged fighter plane. The plane was not much bigger than a large van. Its wings were built into the top of the body and sloped downward and the plane had engines on the front and belly that helped increase the maneuverability of the plane. The word Lightning was painted in yellow on the wing of the plane.
At Jeremy's instruction the guys began to unstrap the Lightning while Jeremy hopped into the cockpit. The inside of the Lightning was sophisticated, with all of the latest technology. Jeremy surveyed the inside of the plane to make sure that all the equipment was intact. Satisfied, he pulled out a key and opened a compartment behind his seat and pulled out a large, black duffel bag that was at least for feet long. He checked the contents of it to make sure that it was all there and then returned the bag to its secure location.
Getting the signal from Eric, Jeremy started up the engines. He leaned the dual sticks forward but did not lift them off their racks, which would have lifted the plane in the air. The plane rolled out onto the main isle of the cargo plane. The rest of the guys walked beside the plane as it slowly rolled down the ramp extending out the back of the cargo plane.
Will and Justin lowered the ramp down on the trailer and Eric guided him on. Jeremy stopped the Lightning on the trailer and locked the wheels. He pushed a button on the dash, which opened up the cockpit. He climbed out and helped anchor the Lightning to the trailer with metal chains. After it was properly secured, they concealed the Lightning with a tarp and pulled out of the hanger. They navigated their way out of the crowded airport and sped down the freeway towards downtown Cleveland.
After they were settled on the freeway, Justin turned to his good friend, "How is the war effort?"
"It is hard to tell," Jeremy replied. "We are at a stalemate right now. As for my part, I was successful. There will be plenty of time to discuss the details once we are rested." The others nodded sympathetically and they discussed the events in Cleveland over the past few months. Then Jeremy reviewed his chase with Jim in the airport.
"I hope you're still game for a welcome home party tomorrow." Eric asked while concentrating on his driving.
"Don't worry," Jeremy replied. "I can't wait to see all the guys again."
Will cut in, "And they will be surprised to see you. Your hair is so short now; I hardly recognized you."
"I do like the new hair dew." Justin said rubbing his similarly cut hair. They all laughed.
It is time for a new things Jeremy thought Jeremy smiled, the unknown is so exciting. They sat in silence the rest of the way home just enjoying being in each others company.