Old Ventures 2, Ch. 8

Eight, Akron-Canton Airport

“I don’t know,” Jack said, shifting uncomfortably in his seat.

“I know,” Rose replied, patting his leg. “But Joey’s fine at home, for the moment. And I know it would do you good to get out of the house, to have an impact on the world, however small.”

“But protesting, at an airport?” Jack asked.

“You go where the injustice is,” she said, “and banning Muslims on the basis of their religion is wrong. This country was founded to be a safe haven, where people could have whatever religion they chose. Not merely as a Christian sanctuary.”

“I guess,” Jack said, slumping.

“Hey,” Rose kissed his cheek. “Trust me. Sometimes what you need is just to see the good you’re doing, know that you can make positive change happen, even if it’s small.”

“Okay,” Jack said. He still felt limp, like the best he could hope to accomplish was going through the motions enough to stay alive, but no more. But he’d trusted Rose, with his life, with his happiness, for nearly 70 years, and if she thought this might help, he wanted to try, or at least, he wanted to want to.

She opened her door first, since she was near the sidewalk, and he followed her out. She tipped their driver and waved goodbye.

Rose led him through the airport to a security checkpoint. It was the deepest you could go in the airport before needing to buy a ticket. A temporary chain link fence had been erected to house detainees from 7 Muslim countries.

A small boy had his fingers through the links in the fence, and it brought Jack back to Rowher, Arkansas. He knelt down, smiling at the shy boy.

“They have to be detained,” a gruff voice said from behind them, “until we can send them back. So please step,” Jack rose to his full height, puffing out his chest. He didn’t take up as much space as he did in his youth, but he still dwarfed the TSA agent. “Just, uh, make it quick.”

On any other day, Jack might have felt bad about intimidating a federal agent, but one look in that kid’s eyes told him it was just karma coming back around. “Thank you,” the boy’s father said.

“All I did was stand up,” Jack said, his voice hollow.

“Sometimes, that’s all that’s necessary.”

Jack’s jaw tightened. He could see in the boy’s mother’s eyes that she doubted it, the same as him. “Why would your country do this?” she asked, slapping the fence between them. “Aren’t you the land of the free? Don’t you pride yourselves on taking in the world’s wretched?”

“We do,” Jack said. “And my heart breaks for you. But this,” he slapped the fence, “is not America. This policy is being driven by one man, a bigot who never should have been even a stone’s throw away from that kind of power. I’m sorry, that we aren’t living up to our ideals. You’ve been brave, to make it this far. If there’s any justice at all you’ll find someplace to really be safe.”

“And maybe we can help you find that place,” Rose said. She handed the woman a business card. “One of our friends works with a refugee resettlement agency. Call that number, and tell Laney that Rose sent you. With everything going on, in Syria, sometimes waits can be long. But they’ll take care of you.”

“Thank you,” the woman said. “Come along, Ali.” The boy ran after her.

“Didn’t that feel good?” Rose asked.

“It felt awful,” Jack said. “It’s everything our country shouldn’t be.”

“Not that part… being able to tell her, honestly and truly, that our country is better than this, and that we’re going to fix it. Commiserating with someone else just as hurt by what’s happening.”

Jack sighed. “You helped her. I… just told her I didn’t want to be held responsible for what our country was doing to her.”

“That’s not…”

“How she took it? No,” Jack said, “but it was in there, anyway. And I am responsible. And you are, too. We all are.”

“We didn’t vote for this.”

“But we didn’t stop it, either.”

“Jack,” she soothed, “you couldn’t have. You tried, but… no man is an island. Not even you.”

“There were things I could have done.”

“You stubborn jackass,” she said, yelling despite the fact she was whispering, “lord knows you were capable of ending things with your hands- but you’re also too good a man to think what a man can do with his hands is what a man ought to.”

“So?” Jack asked. “Maybe this time I ought to have done something. Maybe…” Jack clenched his fist, “maybe I shouldn’t have let my pride get in the way of doing what I know in my soul is right.”

“You shouldn’t say things like that within earshot of a listening device,” Ian said, putting an arm around each of them. “Like that phone in your pocket- or are you just happy to see me?”

“Ian!” Rose said, and bear hugged him. “How are you?”

He stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Still handsome, virile and charming, of course,” he said, “and I’d ask the same of you, but I’d expect the same in reply.”

“You’re the devil in the flesh,” she said, and kissed his cheek, “but you also may be just what the doctor prescribed. Your oldest friend is in some need.”

“Ah, well, I happen to have come with something for our needy friend. Come,” Ian beckoned with his hand. “Leave your wife to do good works. You and I have skullduggery to pursue.”

“You boys be good,” Rose said, squinting at them.

“Very rarely, but at least it’s a feast for the eyes to watch us depart.”

“You,” she said, and laughed, as Ian led Jack down a hall.

“I ever tell you you’ve got your father’s smile?” Jack asked, “even when you look like a cat with a mouthful of canaries. No- especially then.”

“You usually only mention it when you’ve been drinking. Though the way you often tell me I have my mother’s eyes makes me wonder if you ever had a thing or her, or perhaps a thing for me.”

“Don’t flatter yourself.”

“You certainly wouldn’t be the first ‘straight’ man to come onto me, Jack, and, outside your rigid little personal bubble, I think you’d find more people’s sexuality to be more… fluid than your own. I have it on some authority Rosie riveted more than her share of fillies.”

“I never know when you’re teasing me.”

“Hallmark of a good spy. As is teasing out information from informants.”

“Informants? Why does that word sound like a euphemism when you use it?”

“Because most words are,” he smiled. “Though in this particular case you might be correct, as these particular agents moonlight as escorts, or vice versa.”

“So you’re a pimp?”

“Only in the latter-day sense of the word. I don’t perform any services for escorts, neither protection nor muscle. But I do have friendships with women of all walks of life- some of those walks indeed happening upon the street. And it would, of course, be dishonest if I didn’t recognize the parallels between my own profession and theirs; many in my line seduce secrets from their marks, myself included. The main difference is of course the prize we seek. And I’ve always found myself more comfortable around those of ill repute- even when those of better welcome me with open arms. But… I fear this not a matter for jocularity.”

“You found something? About Joey’s insurance?”

“I did. A memo. Scrawled in the buffoon’s own ridiculous hand, personally cutting Joey’s benefits. As you feared. Remarkable, that we’re already to the knifing of one’s political enemies. Took Hitler much longer to get around to that.”

“Yeah,” Jack said, his fists balling again.

“I don’t think I like that look,” Ian said.

“I don’t either,” Jack said, “but I can only think of one remedy for that.”

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