Authors: L.ROY AIKEN
The SAGA of the DEAD SILENCER
COPYRIGHT 2014 L.ROY AIKEN
This is it, the day we’ve been looking forward to for so long, and it’s not starting well. Claire wakes up feverish and phlegmy, too sick to drive me to the airport. There’s not much to say but sorry, hope you feel better, before she crawls back into bed.
The next thing I know I’m loading my luggage into the trunk of the cab because it turns out the cab driver should have called in sick himself. “Hey, sorry, man, you know how it goes!” he says. “Ya don’t work, ya don’t get paid!”
“Tell me about it,” I say,
settling into my seat.
The cabbie sneezes wetly, brings his hand up after the fact. “Where ya headed?”
“Kansas City! Kansas City, here I—!” God help me, he’s trying to sing that old song but a burst of coughing cuts him short. I pull a handkerchief from my pocket and cover my nose and mouth.
He composes himself, sniffs loudly. “So what’s out there?”
All the way out there? I hope they’re paying for it!”
“Must be nice! Wish I could get a gig like that!”
“Ha! I hear ya! So whatcha been doin’ all this time?”
I have to wait for him to finish his latest coughing fit before I can answer.
“You don’t seem all that enthusiastic about this.”
“Lot on my mind.”
A short, barking cough, followed by a long, gurgling wheeze. “Yeah. It’s tough out there.”
“So how long you been outta work?”
to work, know what I’m sayin’? I’d go crazy stayin’ at—!” The driver explodes into another round of coughing, his body bucking and convulsing behind the wheel. It’s all he can do to keep his eyes open to see the road.
After a terrifying
stretch of seconds in which I wonder if he’s going to run the red light we screech to a halt, the taxi’s rear swerving with the force— “Here, you want a piece of none-of-your business to chew on?” I say. “If I don’t make this flight my house goes into foreclosure and my family is homeless as of next month! If you can’t make it to the airport, I need someone who can!”
“Whoa, man, it’s okay, it’s okay! I got this!”
“Can you do it without interrogating me like some nosy o
ld biddy? Can you keep
I’m just making conversation!”
“Just get me to the airport!
I’m running late as it is!”
“Jeez, mister, I said okay!”
The light changes and we roll. I take some satisfaction that the cabbie is keeping quiet, which in turn has eased his coughing. Still, I keep the handkerchief pressed to my face until he pulls up to the white zone at the airport. He pops the trunk and I step out into the blessedly germ-free air to grab my luggage.
I include a tip for the
driver with my fare. I can’t have any bad vibes tainting my luck, not today. “We good?” I ask the driver.
“Look, good luck,” he says. “I know you must be nervous.”
“Yeah. Try and get well. Don’t kill yourself out there.”
ya, brother! Take care.”
I’d like to
think that’s the end of my exposure to whatever’s going around. Inside the terminal, though, I’m running a gauntlet of sneezing, coughing people all the way to the fat lady at the ticket counter. She got a red Hitler mustache of raw skin under her nose from wiping at it with her third wad of tissue.
For God’s sake, I can’t afford to get sick, not for the best chance for gainful employment I’
ve had in years! It’s probably a matter of time, though. Turning away from the counter every other person I see is suffering from some degree of the “Mayday Malaise.”
That’s how the logo reads behind cable news queen Stefani Dunham on TVs all over the airport. “Now this is a
kind of cold bug,” she says. “Aside from the fact that one out of three people come down with it, you can actually sort of function through it! Of course, some are saying it’s because Americans with jobs are afraid to miss work for any reason, given the economic situation.” Our head cheerleader-cum-broadcast journalist makes a face to let us know what she thinks of
“Whatever the case, doctors say it’s an aerosol virus, which means
it’s all up in your air!”
The shot cuts to a gray-haired eminence mumbling authoritatively in a plush office. Back to Stefani: “And we’re not immune here!” She coughs theatrically into a handkerchief. “All this and a runny nose! A big shout-out to my make-up people here in the News Center for keeping me presentable! Hey, we carry on, what can you do?”
luck, that’s the strain I won’t be getting. Claire struggled to make it to the bathroom. The cabbie I rode in with was barely functional.
I call my contact in Kansas City.
“Mr. Grace!” says Giselle. “Aren’t you still in Colorado Springs? You’re at the airport, right?”
I’m right here at the gate. I just wanted to make sure the interview was still on.”
ldn’t it be?”
“That cold that’s
going around. Everybody’s sick!”
Giselle laughs. “Oh, that! We’ve had a few people call in, but that’s not enough to stop us.
not sick, are you?”
“Oh, no, no!
I’m fine! I was…concerned.”
“Well, give me a call when you make it to KC.”
“Will do. Thanks, Giselle.”
“Don’t get sick!”
Right. If my wife didn’t give it to me, if the cab driver didn’t give it to me, if the lady at the counter didn’t give it to me, if half the people at the airport didn’t give it to me—now I’m ducking into a narrow aluminum tube, settling in to breathe recycled air people have been coughing and sneezing into since last week.
We’re getting fresh germs all the time, too. Barely half the seats on the plane are filled but half of those people are sick. The flight attendants sit at their seats along the fore and aft bulkheads and scowl at us over their surgical masks.
If I can stay well for 24 more hours. Twenty-four hours. Lord, that’s all I ask.
It’s a mercifully short flight. Eventually, I find myself in another TB ward of an airport, squinting through clouds of aerosolized phlegm to get to my luggage. I
call Giselle. “Welcome to KC!” she says. “You know how to find us, right?” she says.
See you soon!”
At the rental car kiosk I check my pockets for the directions I’d printed from the Internet. “Uh, hey,” I ask the guy behind the counter. “Can I get some directions printed up here? I left mine at home.”
“What do you need those for?”
“To find my way to my job interview.”
He’s looking at me vaguely horrified, like I just pissed myself.
“Your vehicle has GPS.”
Walking out to my vehicle, I have to work the keychain remote several times just to be sure this magnificent black luxury SUV is really mine. The new car smell is intoxicating. Nothing is slammed; the rear hatch closes with the touch of a button. I walk around to climb into the cab.
Can’t slam this door, either. It’s like burping a Tupperware lid.
I turn the key and the air conditioning blows on full. The radio plays symphonic music in
full-immersive surround sound and none of this seems a strain on anything. I turn down the music and give myself a minute to familiarize myself with the GPS. Not that I need a whole minute. It works on voice command.
The traffic is light on the way into downtown
, allowing me the luxury of taking in some of the sights of the city as I drive. I park in the visitors’ area of the adjacent garage and take the elevator to my floor. The doors open to a wide, sumptuous lobby. I’ve never met Giselle but I know her on sight: a meticulously groomed young beauty working the Hot Librarian look in her horn-rimmed glasses and a navy blue power suit worth two or more of my mortgage payments.
She blesses me with a cinematically white, straight-toothed smile: “Thank God, something’s going right today!”
“That’s what I’m here for,” I say, smiling.
“First, I need to apologize. I thought Rob was going to be here today, but—guess what!”
“Not a clue.”
“In the four hours since we spoke this morning we’ve had people going home right and left. Rob sometimes doesn’t get here until ten so I imagined he’d at least be here to welcome you to the city. He ended up calling in.”
“Given how I left my wife this morning, I can tell you, if you’re sick, you’re really sick. And I know what I saw in both airports on my way here.”
“Yes, sir, and I
apologize! I honestly didn’t see this coming! We’ve got so many people here working through their sniffles just
. Anyway, it seems there may be some…consequence to this.”
“Assuming Rob’s among the group of the Really Sick we’ll have to postpone the interview.”
“How long are you willing to put me up here?”
“How long are you willing to stay?”
“I came to talk to Rob. If it’s not too much of a problem
, I’ll wait.”
“Even with your wife sick back home?”
“My teenage children can take care of her.”
Giselle puts an envelope on the counter. “There’s a voucher in there for a really good steakhouse in the Power and Light District.
Should be enough in there for breakfast and lunch tomorrow at any number of places close to your hotel. Call me in the morning before checkout. Either I’ll have another envelope or a plane ticket.”
“It’s a date,”
I say, slipping the envelope into my inside jacket pocket.
“I hope you don’t mind eating out so much!”
“Not at all. Thanks, Giselle.”
“Okay. We’ll talk to you tomorrow, then.”
“You bet.” I turn and walk out of the lobby. I manage to make it inside the blessedly empty elevator car before letting out a sigh of relief to blow the doors in.
The next day
I call my son after breakfast. Jack tells me his mother’s been bedridden since I left yesterday. She’s not coughing so much today, so she should finally get some rest.
There’s talk of closing the schools until this blo
ws over. He’s staying home, regardless: “We did nothing yesterday, Dad. Nothing. It was a total waste.”
“Same here,” I say. “What can I tell you? Just look in on your Mom from time to time. Try not to get sick.”
“Dad, come on! If we were going to get sick don’t you think we would have by now? I took a regular snot-shower from all the people sneezing and coughing yesterday! I’m not going back until this crap’s over with!” He pauses. “Sorry, Dad. It just…I don’t even wanna think about it. It’s weird.”
To say the least. What’s Sibyl up to?”
“She’s going into work today. Thanks for reminding me. I need to tell her to pi
ck up some stuff on the way home.”
I tell him to do what he has to do, keep me posted, etc., and hang up.
“You’re lucky you’ve got your kids
to take care of your wife,” Giselle tells me later at the office. “I’m all my mother has, and I have to come into work.”
“I’d be home too if I could help it,” I say. “So how’s Rob doing?”
“I don’t think he has the bad kind. You don’t feel like talking on the phone if you’re really sick. He’s sure he’ll have it kicked by Friday. In the meantime, he says enjoy the city on us. How are you liking it so far?”
“I’m ready to start looking at houses.”
“Great! I’ve got some fliers and business cards for some realtors if you want to take the time to do that.”