Bennington’s Catch is new noir fiction, serialized. Every Thursday, a new chapter goes up.
- Chapter 15 now posted. Click to read any current or previous single chapter under the Chapters menu (above). Current chapters are always duplicated on the front page of this site.
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Down a short escalator into the banana-cream tile of the arrival hall, Mia took a wrong right toward baggage claim — wide, white, and for some reason empty. No baggage at all. The 3-train to Penn, then up and out in a hurry. Into a cab, she’d paid for it all the way to Jamaica, and then she dove back down a set of subway stairs and snagged the AirTrain to Federal Circle. Second cab to Terminal 4. Out and in. Her head whirring, she’d made her first mistake. The empty room. The silent belts. Still, there was nobody behind her when she backtracked past the moving stairs. Mission: good (so far).
Knots of civilians populated the main waiting area, most of them standing beside nylon rope barriers where uniformed airport employees sat at a central desk. The people waited for the planes to release their tubes of flyers. The far wall of the hall was a massive window slanting down to the sidewalk outside. At its edge, a line of yellow cabs fluctuated. One pulled away, four others crawled forward. The first stop on the left-hand wall, past the orange shell of a Dunkin’ Donuts kiosk was a nondescript counter signed in red: Hotels. Tucked to one side of the counter was a short hallway under white-lit letters: Baggage Storage.
Mia stepped under the white sign and set down her suitcase. To the left, on the countertop, a clutch of balloons — a display of different designs. The closest one: Happy Birthday, teal and raspberry dots all over it. Happy Birthday To You. A customs cop stepped out of a doorway in the short hall. She looked at her cell phone and then waded into the bulk of arrivals, walking among its expectant clusters. Mia unfroze. The tense-up: it happened every time. She’d learned to almost control it, but never well enough. Last day of freezing at cops, anyway. The baggage rep approached her at the counter.
They were cutting something with a laser in another part of the building. Mia walked between a wooden half-wall, constructed to divide yellow-vested workers from the airport’s foot traffic, and just before she turned right to take the elevator to ticketing she saw the rudimentary sign upon a steel gate to her left: LASER BEING USED. Just past that, in the aluminum-walled lift, a custodian commanding a dirty yellow bucket by the handle of its mop slipped through the closing doors. As they climbed past the second floor — the AirTrain terminal, bustling — the custodian suddenly slopped the mop head down onto the tile next to her. Mia jumped.
“Sorry,” said the man. He pushed the ropy mass one half-push and then let it sit there.
Mia stepped out of the elevator into an expanse of rope queues and electronic screens. A kid with a backpack sat on the floor by one of the front doors. He was reading. Beyond him, the ever present line of cabs. Mia made her way to a Delta desk and did her deal in cash.
“You ask him to check his mail,” she said to Minghai, sitting by the wall under all the framed awards from the city fire departments, under all the citations from the police. The music was too loud and it was also the wrong mix for this late an hour. If it were Mia’s shift she’d have locked that down forty-five minutes ago. They were leaving money on the counter with this stupid mix. She pressed the copies of the keys in Minghai’s hand. “Wait a couple days, though. He’s too dumb to look inside. And I told him not to. What’s in it is for you.”
“I don’t want any crazy letter from you later,” Minghai said in English, shouting, the crunch of guitars and overeager vocals from the speakers all around them. “Where are you going? Why are we trusting Benigno? I wish you never mixed up with that creep.”
“It’s bad enough,” Mia said, “but he’s the one I trust. Look, let’s not debate it. We can talk about it when some time goes by, when things are better and you’ve decided what to do.”
“Decide what to do? I’ve got nothing here, Mia. And not knowing if you’re safe after this?”
Mia saw Benigno moving through the room, still in his ambulance outfit, still wearing his badge: Menendez. He stopped at the central rectangle of the bar and ordered drinks. He made sure she saw him; he winked and raised a finger to the brow over his left eye, kind of pointing to it. One of those little things, she realized, the creeper gesturing to her as if they were in on something together. Well, they were, now, weren’t they? She wished they weren’t. Her stomach formed a little balloon of gas. It hovered near the top of the cavity inside her, making it feel like her heart was beating a bit too fast. Not in a good way.
“Here he comes,” she said.
Minghai located Benigno, then looked back at Mia, who reached out and gripped her sister’s hand.
“You remember to ask him about the envelope,” Mia said. “And you wait until I’m gone a couple days. Don’t come looking for me. And don’t talk to anyone, no matter what they ask or what they tell you that I’ve done.”
[Read Chapter 16 starting 05.23.13. Listen to the podcast: click the link up top.]
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