1st Place – September 2018

Seeing Red

by JJ Rushmore

It had been a long day.
The airlines had canceled dozens of flights due to Hurricane Irma. The small Caribbean airport teemed with stranded travelers anxious to leave, their frustrations mounting as the day wore on. Large clumps of disgruntled vacationers clustered about.
Passengers from two flights packed the waiting area at Gate 11. I slouched against a concrete post close to the ticket counter, as there were no open seats. The flight to Miami had to depart before my plane to Dallas could reach the gate. Boarding had started, but the computers were down. Agents read the tickets manually, checking names off a passenger list. The boarding proceeded slowly.
An elderly woman marched up to the ticket counter. She had scraggly silver hair and wore a peasant dress and white sneakers.
“What’s my status young man?” The woman spoke in a screechy, querulous voice. “Am I on this flight or not?”
“What be your name, Granma?”
“Delores Dickenson. And I’m not your Granma.”
The agent tapped his keyboard. “You be first on our standby list, Ms. Dickenson.” The agent spoke with a pronounced Jamaican accent, stretching out his vowels and articulating his consonants. “Unfortunately the flight be full. It will take a cancellation to be freeing up a seat for you.”
The woman grabbed a pen from the desktop. She waved it like a music conductor’s baton, punctuating her thoughts. “It’s Mrs. Dickenson, young man, and that’s not good enough! I have to get back for my granddaughter’s wedding! You need to knock someone off this plane and get me a seat.”
The agent, clearly exhausted from placating irate travelers, took a deep breath. “The word be ‘bump,’ Madam, and I am not allowed to be bumpin’ off anyone. You must be patient and see what happens.”
I watched as the woman blew an exasperated breath and tromped off to her seat. She plopped down next to a florid man dressed in an ugly Hawaiian shirt, fluorescent yellow shorts, and flip flops. They began an animated conversation I couldn’t hear, while comparing each other’s travel papers and passing them back and forth.
The agent called the last boarding group. The florid man leisurely gathered his belongings, making no effort to merge with the throng funneling through the gate. He was the last in line to board.
The man handed the agent his ticket. The agent referred to the passenger list, and frowned.
“May I see your passport, please?”
The man grumbled something, but patted his pockets and produced the document.
The agent examined the passport, and looked back at the ticket. “I am sorry, sir, but this not be your ticket.”
“What? Of course it’s my ticket!”
“Be you Stephen E. Crampendorf?”
“No. Look at my passport. I’m Stephen F. Crampendorf.”
“Well, this ticket be for Stephen E. Crampendorf.”
“What are you talking about? Lemme see that.” The man snatched the ticket from the agent’s hand and stared at it. “Here’s the problem. Look,” he said, shoving the paper in the agent’s face and pointing at it. “The ticket was made out to me, ‘Stephen F.,’ see the typing? There’s just this red mark here that makes the ‘F’ look like an ‘E.’” The man began rubbing his pudgy finger over a spot on the paper.
“Please do not be doin’ that.” The agent yanked back the ticket. “That be an official alteration,” he said. “We make corrections on tickets in red ink.”
“Don’t be ridiculous! This—” He flicked his finger on the ticket, the gesture causing a loud crack. “Is the ticket you gave me this morning after you cancelled my original flight. The original ticket said ‘Stephen F’, the second ticket says ‘Stephen F,’ and I’m Stephen F.” If there’s a mistake, it’s your mistake.”
“Do you have the original ticket?”
“No, I don’t. You took it from me when you issued the new ticket. What name is on the passenger list?”
“Stephen F. Crampendorf.”
“That’s me! Stephen F.”
“You still need a ticket.”
“I have a ticket!” He pointed at the paper in the agent’s hand. Colored blotches appeared in the man’s cheeks.
“I am sorry sir, there be nothing I can do. That be an officially altered ticket issued to Stephen E. Crampendorf.”
The florid man got louder. “No it’s not! See here,” he said, whipping out his wallet. “Here’s my Texas driver’s license—Stephen F.” The man placed the plastic card on the agent’s podium while bending one edge and letting it go suddenly with a loud snap. “Texas has one of the biggest governments in the world. You could fit fifty of your puny islands inside our state. Do you think they’d make a mistake? No! And here—my TSA trusted traveler card—Stephen F!” He snapped the second card down. “TSA is the U.S. Government, the richest country in the free world. Do you think they’d make a mistake? No! And here,” he said, as he pulled out another card. “Here’s my Florida concealed carry permit.” Snap. “Would Florida make a mistake with something like that? No!”
“Sir, that not be the issue, it—”
“And my passport—issued by the State Department. They don’t make mistakes!”
“But sir—”
“Look at my face.” He struck a pose, displaying his teeth in a wide grin. “Look at the ID photos. Look at the photo in my passport. Is it me or isn’t it  me?”
“Sir, that not what we be talkin’ about.”
“How many people do you think are here named Stephen Crampendorf?” He turned an shouted at the crowd. “Is there anyone here named Crampendorf?”
I looked at the crowd. No one cared.
When no one responded, he turned back to the agent. “See?”
“Sir…”
The man’s voice raised an octave in pitch and ten decibels in volume. “What is wrong with you people? Here!” He pulled a fistful of cards from his wallet. “Visa! Mastercard! American Express!” Snap. Snap. Snap. “Here’s my Medicare card! My Blue Cross Blue Shield card! Triple A! AARP!” More snapping. “And, last but not least—” He raised the final card overhead so all could see. “My Nacogdoches County library card!” He snapped the card down alongside the others with a triumphant flourish.
The ticket agent wearily rubbed his forehead and looked at the ID cards, shaking his head. Suddenly he picked one up.
“Mr. Crampendorf. Why you be havin’ a concealed carry permit from Florida if you be living in Texas?”
“What the hell are you talking about? What has that got to do with anything?”
“We must verify the authenticity of all IDs. Can you explain why you have an ID from Florida?”
“I live in Texas, but I own property in Florida. And I have a gun. For a gun I need a permit. It’s easier to get a permit from Florida—”
“You have a gun?”
“Yes. Of course I have a gun. Everyone in Texas has a gun.”
There was more, but things started happening as soon as Mr. Crampendorf said, “I have a gun.”
I saw another agent farther down the counter picked up a phone and began speaking, while casting surreptitious looks at the florid Mr. Crampendorf. Anyone within earshot moved away. The first two rows of chairs in the waiting area emptied out. Several people ducked behind the furniture. Dark figures began filtering into the surrounding crowd. Figures in uniform. Figures with automatic weapons.
Mr. Crampendorf, meanwhile, was outright yelling. “Of all the stupid things I’ve ever heard of! I’ve been here for hours! And now you’re telling me I can’t board my plane because of one little red mark on my ticket? And make no mistake! That’s my ticket! I want to see a supervisor! I demand—”
At that point, the black-clad gendarmes descended upon him like flies on dead meat, knocking him over and pinning him to the floor. They frisked him, bound his wrists with zip ties, and dragged him away. His sunburned face turned almost purple. He never stopped yelling.
“You people are crazy! I just want my ticket! Do you know who I am? I’m an American citizen! I’m a veteran! I’m a Shriner, for Christ sake! I know people! You won’t hear the end of this!”
His voice faded away as they dragged him off. The waiting area was silent.
The agent picked up Mr. Crampendorf’s ID cards, stacking them in a neat pile. He punched the phone and made an announcement. “Would Delores Dickenson please come to the counter?”
The old woman with scraggly silver hair approached the podium.
“Mrs. Dickenson, we have had a—cancellation, and there be room for you on the flight to Miami,” he said. “You be in seat 17B. Please proceed to the gate.”
“Why thank you, young man. Oh—and I believe this is yours.”  She handed him something. “I borrowed it earlier.”
The agent accepted the item and waved her on through.
He stared at the red pen and smiled.

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