The Carry-On

July 30, 2017
By , Elk Grove, CA

A giant guitar hung suspended over Jeremiah’s head. A poster advertising the Grand Ole Opry hung on the wall across the way. He had never liked country music, which made Nashville a difficult place to grow up.

Jeremiah tapped his foot and rubbed his wrist as he sat in the lumpy chair at the airport waiting for his flight home to Chicago. He checked with the attendant again about the time for boarding.
“Still 3:30, sir,” she told him with a curt smile.
He pulled out his worn leather wallet and checked inside. Still empty. He shook his head and bit his lip. Why did his uncle have to be such a penny pincher? He made a good living. Jeremiah spent money he couldn’t afford, to fly all the way out here to beg for rent money. Rent money! He needed this. Why couldn’t his uncle see that?
The rent on his rundown, studio apartment was three months past due. The last conversation he had with his landlord before he flew to Tennessee left him with bruised ribs and an injured arm. When he returned from Chicago, he would probably find all his belongings strewn down the street and a new lock on his front door.
With a trembling finger, he opened the bank app on his phone and checked the balance for the millionth time. $350. A piddly little, three. Five. Zero. That’s it. No where near the three thousand dollars he needed for back rent. That’s all he had to pay for a hefty three thousand dollars that he had built up. He went to the bathroom and threw up a few times.
As he was cleaning up at the sink, he looked up into the mirror and noticed a man stood behind him. He wore a light blue shirt with a yellow badge. Airport security? Did I do something wrong? Jeremiah reached for the paper towels and considered how he could get away. The man was short and pudgy, he could probably push him over and run away. The man cleared his throat and began to tap a nice leather bag he had slung over his shoulder.
“Not doing so well there are ya?” he said.
Jeremiah turned and leaned on the sink. The guard’s eyes were wide and strangely friendly. 
“No sir, I am not.”
“Money troubles, I’ll bet?
“How did you know?”
“With young men, it’s always one of two things: girls or money. You don’t look upset enough for it to be about a lady.” The tiny guard shifted from one foot to the other and smiled wider.
“Yeah, I’m a bit short. But I’ll figure it out.” He managed to twitch his lips up into an awkward grin.
“Well then, you be interested in making some money today.” he whispered, tapping the leather bag.
“What?”
“Easy job. Piece of cake. All you have to do is take this bag,” he pulled on the strap across his chest, “onto the plane as your carry on.”
“And then what?”
“And then meet my associate when you get off the plane and hand it over to him.”
Sounds easy enough. “What’s the pay?”
The guard shrugged. “How does three hundred sound?”
Three hundred? That doubles what I have!
He gulped and gripped the back of the counter to stop his hands from shaking. Do I dare try for more? This is how deals are made, right? He gulped. “Make it three hundred and dollars and we have a deal.”
The guard laughed.
Oh no, I went to far! “Three twenty five?” he shrugged.
“No, no, kid. Not three hundred dollars, three hundred thousand.” He winked.
“Wha.. what?” Jeremiah stammered. This wasn’t real. This couldn’t be real. He bit the inside of his cheek until it bled. “You lost some color in your face, kid? Are you all right?”
Jeremiah nodded and leaned harder into the counter. “I don’t believe you sir, it’s just...that is a very large sum of money for just carrying your luggage.”
“Yes, I am very sure. All I need is you to do, is take this case as your carry on, give the case to the man in the silver hat in the baggage area, and in two days I’ll drop off the money at your porch and you sure look like you need it.
Jeremiah’s head was spinning.
“Can.. can I see the money?” Jeremiah stammered.
“I know this is hard to believe, but you have to trust me. I will deliver you your money in two days. Text your address to this number so we can drop it off.”he replied
“This doesn't seems impossible. Are you trying to scam me or something?” Jeremiah said.
“No, this isn’t a scam. If you aren’t interested, I can turn right around and go to someone else who will do this for me.”
Jeremiah thought for a minute or two, then  came to an agreement with the guard. They shook hands and Jeremiah took possession of the leather bag. It wasn’t very heavy. What could be inside?
“All set?” The guard asked as Jeremiah slung the bag over his shoulder.
“Yep. Thanks.” He turned to walk toward the exit.
“One last thing.”
He faced the guard again.
“This is very important. Do not look inside the bag.”
“Okay. I won’t.”
The guard stepped to him and took Jeremiah by the elbow. “I mean it, kid. Do not look inside the bag or very bad things will happen. Very bad things.”
Jeremiah swallowed hard and nodded twice. Walking out of the bathroom, the bag seemed to feel heavier with each step. What have I gotten myself into? Clearly whatever is in this bag was illegal or government information or something beyond me.
As he walked back to his seat on the plane, he thought about the money. All his problems would be gone in a matter of days, hours really. Just forty-eight hours and he would be a free man. A free man who still had a home. 
After sliding into his seat, he examined the outside of the bag. Very nice Expensive leather with a solid oak handle, looked like a brand new, bag actually, with a golden lining and a nice oak handle. Seemed like a designer bag, something he could never afford, that’s for sure. After he paid his rent, then what? I’ll save some for sure. Of course, I will. I could buy groceries with that sort of money for 10 years plus!
“Sir, you’ll need to store your bag for take off.” A pretty flight attendant with shiny pink lipstick broke him out of his thoughts.
“Huh?”
“You can put it under the seat in front of you, or I can stow it in the compartment up here.” She pointed a painted finger nail to the compartment over his head.
“No!” He clutched the bag.
The flight attendant frowned.
“I..I...I’m sorry. Nervous flyer.”
Her pink lips spread into a sympathetic grin and she patted his shoulder with her manicured nails. “Let us know if we can make you more comfortable.”
“I’ll put it away, right now.”
She patted him one more time and continued to check other passengers down the aisle. He tucked it away under the seat and touched it with the toes of his shoes.
As the staff went through the safety speech about exits and what to do in the event of a water landing, thoughts raced through his mind, again. Was this a bomb? Would he be putting people in danger? His stomach was beginning to feel weak again.
Luckily, wasn’t sitting next to anyone, in fact there weren’t very many people on this flight. So, after the plane was in the air, he took the leather bag out and set it in the empty seat next to him.
It had been an hour and nothing happened. His stomach was beginning to ease itself, and his breath had slowed to a normal pace. He looked at the bag again. Jeremiah reached his hand out and rubbed it down the leather which continued to soothe him.
As he was feeling the leather, a pulse tickled his fingers. Did something just move inside? from the bag along with a muffled sound coming from the bag. This raised Jeremiah eyebrow, and he picked up the bag and pressed it against his ear. A small beep was coming from the bag along with an intermittent clunk  every now and then.
Oh God..no. No! It can’t be... Jeremiah’s head began to spin and his chest hurt. What do I do? What do I do! Blood roared in his ears over the engine. Am I having a heart attack?  
The speakers clicked on and the captain made an announcement.
“Ladies and gentleman, we are beginning our descent into O’Hare International Airport. Local time is 10:04 p.m. It’s pleasant out there, sixty-seven degrees with a few high clouds. Please return to your seats and we’ll get you to the gate as quick as we can. We know you have a choice when you fly, thanks for choosing us. Flight attendants, prepare for arrival.”
Jeremiah’s racing heart slowed. He wiped the sweat from his brow. We’re landing. It’s going to be okay...for now...but what happens when I land? What is this man in the silver hat going to do to me? As the landing gear hit the runway, more thoughts rushed his mind. Am I going to be kidnapped? Do these people know me?
He snatched the leather bag and bolted off the plane, angeling around an elderly couple that were struggling to get their bags from the overhead compartment and pushing a young mother and her child aside.
He wove through the sea of people and took the escalator to baggage claim. Now all he had to look for was the man in the silver hat. He was easy to find. Jeremiah practically ran into him. He handed over the bag and didn’t say a word. The man in the silver hat didn’t speak either. Jeremiah walked away without making eye contact.
The next two days for Jeremiah were terrible. He didn’t leave his apartment, eating only what he had. Top ramen and stale bread. He didn’t turn on the TV or any lights. The landlord came both nights around eight to collect his money. Jeremiah hid on the fire escape and covered his ears until the banging on his door stopped. Just a few more hours and all my worries are over. 
He paced his apartment, in anticipation of his money arriving. Boredom threatened to drive him insane. It’s probably safe enough to watch TV, now. He turned on the set and dropped the volume as low as it would go. The morning news was on and a story caught his eye. A massive robbery at Northern Trust. As the footage of the robbers escaping played, one of the robbers had a very peculiar bag in his hand.
The exact bag he had carried on the plane was in the robber's hand. In a swirl of confusion, panic, and fear, Jeremiah heard the doorbell ring. He answered the door to find a bag with a bag with very nice leather, looked like a brand new bag actually, with a golden lining and a nice oak handle.






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