David Byrne sprinted to the heart of baggage claim, nestled under a web of steel spokes and polished metal. He skidded into a wall of bodies and chatter as five planes' worth of passengers crowded the baggage carousels.
David swore under his ragged breath. He wasn't in the mood for people getting in his way. Not after what happened last night.
He dodged through the crowd as he scanned each carousel for his flight number. Then, at the carousel farthest from the exit, the screen fizzed and crackled, and his flight number appeared above the static, black belt.
David swept away the beading sweat from his brow. He couldn't face the board as anything but cool. At least he'd have a chauffeured ride to the showdown meeting, his thoughts given clean air to run through the presentation that would show the board just how wrong they were. And the minibar would give him courage. He had given Sisyphus Financial his heart and soul for the last ten years. What more did they want?
His phone was silent. Nothing from Sharon. How could she misunderstand his ultimatum? You need to promise me it's really over.
Sharon was silent then and silent now.
David thumbed through his phone, looking for a text with the details for his arrival. His thumb came up empty. Twelve months ago the board had rolled out the red carpet: a limousine and a full minibar for the most profitable branch manager in the country. He winced. The last twelve months had been tough for business. They'd been tough for a lot of things.
His thumb hovered over a family photo from a happier time, the day Caitlin got her Elsa dress and his small family's obsession with'Frozen began. Sharon was smiling—he could carbon-date the picture from that fact alone—but Caitlin was beaming. David's heart still seemed to swell when he thought of how happy he'd made his daughter that day. He'd hunted all over the city for the smallest dress size to turn his own princess into Disney royalty.
The more familiar hammer beat of stress took over as the reason for his trip shadowed across that happy thought from another time. If he lost his job, Caitlin's smile would fade. How could he let that happen to his six-year-old daughter?
A line of twelve suited men stood in the distance, their jaunty chauffeur's hats perched above a row of white cards held at their chests. Which one is mine? Probably the big guy with the beaming white smile.
The carousel, a winding, slumbering beast in black and silver, defied him. Behind the walls engines roared and tires squealed with the internal traffic of an airport. The other carousels were a hive of busyness too. Everyone but him got their suitcases and a release to start their day.
A throat politely cleared behind him. "Excuse me, sir?"
David glanced over his shoulder. A young man in a navy-blue cap and overalls leaned on a gleaming silver baggage cart. A white badge branded one breast: Baggage Services.
The young man tipped his cap, and thick, black, curly hair threatened to burst free. He rose on the balls of his feet. "I'm the Baggage Handler. Do you need some help with your baggage?"
A stroke of luck. For the first time in a while.
David spun to face him. "Actually, buddy, I need to get out of here in a hurry, so if you could make my suitcase appear, that would be ideal."
The Baggage Handler smiled. "I'm afraid I can't make it appear, sir. But I am available to help you with your baggage when you're ready." His deep-blue eyes sparkled above a kind smile.
The nerves again launched a fresh assault on David. What was the holdup with his suitcase? He needed his sales reports to have any chance of keeping his job. Why couldn't the airline just do their job?
The Baggage Handler again rose on the balls of his feet. "The minute you want any help, you just let me know." He pushed his cart to the other end of the carousel.
What a strange guy.
The crowd swelled around him as the passengers from his flight meandered over, eroding his advantage and negating his sprint from the plane. David huffed and reached into his pocket for another antacid. The indigestion was getting worse, an obvious symptom of fighting to save his future and preparing to justify his existence before a board of twelve uninterested men whose concern for him stopped at his ability to make them money.
At least that was David's self-diagnosis of indigestion, with the help of Dr. Google....