Today's Reading

"Good. After I check into the motel and get a few hours' sleep, I have to set everything up down here for me and William long term. When I'm done, I'll be back for him, but you and I aren't going to talk for a while after that—clear? Do not call me under any circumstances. It's too dangerous—unless there's a problem with my brother. And there better not be a problem with my brother, Bobby."

"Just handle your business, Arnie. I got this."

"You fucking better."

Arnie heard the double beep of another call coming in on the line. He looked at the display again to see William's name. He lifted the phone back to his ear. "That's Willie calling me on the other line. I swear to God, Bobby, if you fucked this up. If he's alone right now and you're lying to me. If he's in trouble—"

"I said he's fine, man. You need to calm down." Stoned or not, Bobby was getting tired of being scolded like a child. He got defensive. "Maybe you should remember who bankrolled this little adventure, Arnie. Without me there would be no—"

Arnie ended the call in mid-sentence. Little adventure? If that hippie had been standing in front of him right that second, he'd have knocked his fronts out. He couldn't see what Bernadette saw in that idiot. He calmed himself and answered the other line. "William?"

"Yes."

"Where are you?"

"I'm hungry."

Arnie switched the phone to his other ear. "What?" His hands were shaking so bad that he dropped his claim ticket in the process of moving the phone. He nearly dropped the phone, too, as he frantically tried to pick up the slip of paper as if he'd just dropped a winning lottery ticket, which was not far off. He bumped the man to his left again. This time the big boy acted even less pleased and shoved Arnie harder than he had the first time. Arnie barely noticed the nudge as his eyes followed the claim ticket to the floor. He bent over and snatched it up before it had even settled and managed to bump the big man a third time as he straightened back up.

"You got a problem, buddy?"

Arnie dropped the phone down by his side and squeezed it tight enough to turn his knuckles white. "Maybe. Maybe I got a big fucking problem. Maybe I'm just one mouthy asshole away from losing my shit."

"Is that right?" Carhartt puffed his chest out, but his voice was timid. He couldn't get a read on Arnie's degree of crazy, and the lack of confidence made him sound weak. Arnie could smell the blood in the water. The big boy was soft.

"Yeah, that's right. And if you put your fat hands on me again, I'll shove this phone straight down your throat." Arnie was still sweating like he'd been sitting in a sauna for the last six hours, and this time Carhartt could read every bit of the crazy in his eyes, so the big boy quickly found another place to stand. The small victory made Arnie feel a little better. He swiftly forgot about the man and shifted his focus back to the carousel. A security guard in a gray uniform stood several feet over to Arnie's left. He'd been watching Arnie since he walked in—or maybe he wasn't. Arnie's paranoia made everyone around him suspect, but Arnie tried to avoid eye contact with the airport cop all the same. An Asian man pushed his way into the space vacated by the Carhartt redneck and made room for a young girl—his daughter, most likely—eleven or so— William's age. Arnie smiled at her, but after one look at Arnie, the girl's father immediately sheltered her and stood between them. Arnie couldn't blame him. He was soaking wet. His clothes were sticking to him and he smelled like spoiled lunch meat. He was also shaking like a dope fiend. The Asian man grabbed a sleek black suitcase from the conveyor and quickly hustled away. Arnie was freaking out. Where was his fucking suitcase? How could he be so stupid to let this happen? Goddamn TSA.

The security guard was moving in closer. At least, Arnie thought he was. His heart was pounding so hard he was sure everyone around him could hear it. He felt like the old man from "The Tell-Tale Heart," except there wasn't a body behind that steel wall. There was a box of money. It was Arnie's first real lucky break, and, he hoped, the last he'd ever need. 

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Where is my damn bag? Arnie thought his head might spin right off his shoulders. Please, God, just let me have this one thing—just this one thing.

And then, like an answered prayer, there it was. The top of the tweed case slowly emerged through the curtain of thick rubber strips and inched into view until Arnie could see the red sticker his brother had stuck across the lid. William loved stickers. Arnie shoved his way past several other people, saying "Excuse me" all the way. He snaked his wiry frame through the crowd toward his luggage. "Excuse me. Sorry. Excuse me." An older woman mumbled something as he pushed past her, but Arnie ignored her. He didn't even see her. He stopped seeing people altogether, or security guards, or crushing prison cell walls. All he could see was that suitcase, and now he was only a few feet away. He nudged his way closer until he could get a grip on the leather handle and hoisted it off the conveyor belt with a renewed vigor. The act of lifting the bag made him feel stronger. He felt whole somehow, as if he'd just reconnected to a lost limb. As he turned to walk away, he could feel the excitement set in. He could feel the anxiety begin to melt away and he finally stopped sweating. Arnie homed in on the massive set of double doors leading outside. He navigated his way through the crowd and toward those doors with tunnel vision. All he could see was the sunshine on the other side of the sliding glass. He picked up the pace and slammed right into the airport security guard who may or may not have been standing there the whole time.
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