Frank couldn’t believe he was still upset by the time he’d made his way out of the airport terminal and to the car he’d left parked in Section B, Row two, Slot twelve of Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
He threw his suit bag and new briefcase onto the front passenger seat of his navy blue Ford Taurus – the exact same car as David’s.
This particular model was used by the NTSB as a fleet car. He’d grown so accustomed to driving them that whenever he was out in the field, he rented this same model if it were available. That way he didn’t have to waste time figuring out how to turn on the lights or the windshield wipers, or anything else. It was like a well-worn pair of old shoes or your favorite pair of jeans.
He walked around the length of the car, his hand touching its navy blue exterior, feeling every dent and paint chipped spot as he went. His right hand found the keyhole of the driver side door without his even being conscious of it.
Once inside, he let out a deep cleansing breath. He sat for a while collecting his thoughts as he let the car warm up. What an unbelievable set of circumstances had brought him together with David Walker.
Carefully, he pulled the car out of the lot and into the stream of traffic that was leaving BWI airport.
At the edge of the airport a city cop was directing the lanes of traffic – right, left, or straight ahead were his only options.
A mixture of rain and snow was falling and blanketing the scene all around him. The steady swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of the windshield wipers was almost hypnotic.
While he waited his turn in the line of cars leaving the airport, he stared blankly at the officer directing traffic. The clear plastic poncho the officer wore over a heavy down coat glistened with moisture. Frank noted that the officer was in complete uniform – regulation uniform – right down to the polished boots mired in the muddy snow.
Now his curiosity was piqued. Who wears their dress uniform to direct traffic? Someone was obviously pulling a prank on a young or female cop. He tried to deduce which the officer was. Hands were an obvious giveaway, but the officer’s hands were covered by heavy black gloves.
A glimpse of the face would tell him for sure, but the poncho hood shielding the officer’s hat from the falling rain and snow mixture, also made it all but impossible to tell whether the officer directing traffic was male or female.
He lit a cigarette and cranked up the heat in the car. He’d caught a chill just watching the cop.
As he waited his turn in line, the lights from other cars twinkled through the drizzle collecting on his side windows reminded him that the holidays were close at hand.
He wondered if traffic control at the airport was the cop’s regular assignment or if he/she was pulling extra duty in order to make cash for the holidays. Either way, he thought, airport traffic duty sucked big time.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, the cop was waiving at him to go. Again, he felt a surge of curiosity and strained forward trying to get a better look at the cop’s face. But as his car passed, the officer chose that exact moment to pull his hat snuggly down over his face. Frank turned left away from the officer and the city.
Once on the expressway, he put the traffic cop out of his thoughts for there was David’s admission in the restaurant to think about. He let out a sigh and switched on the radio to lighten his mood. It was the day before Thanksgiving but the stations were already playing Christmas songs. A fine little diddy was playing, “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.” What twisted mind had come up with that one, he thought. He switched the radio off. He might as well admit it. It wasn’t the song. The song was fine, even kinda catchy. It was what David had said that had rattled him.
Early on in his career with the NTSB he, too, had heard their voices. The voices of the dead crying out for help, crying out for loved ones lost. Especially hard to endure was the mother traveling with a young child and had somehow gotten separated from her child during the crash. Or the elderly couple married for years and years. They always cried out as they searched for one another.
But veteran crash investigators had assured him that the unexplainable things he saw and heard were products of his shocked brain – shock at the devastation that lay all around him. His shocked brain had substituted what he hoped to see – injured people wandering around in a daze, weeping and crying, instead of what was really there – dismembered charred bodies.
It bothered him to think about the dead wandering searching for those they had lost. The dead should be at peace – not locked in an eternal search for answers. Someone should have answers for them, he thought. Someone should tell them why. Why their lives had ended in such a horrific way.
He pulled a tape recorder from the car’s glove compartment and pressed record. It was his aim to recreate the missing notes as best he could. He knew some things were lost completely. But other things were stuck in his mind forever – like the length of that skid. In his opinion, Captain Nolan should have been commended for even getting that plane on the ground. It was just sheer dumb luck that Wilbur Johnson’s field was inundated with large rocks.
Frank and the car rolled along the busy expressway for several seconds without a driver at the controls as he pondered the unanswered questions, of those aboard Flight 404. Why had all those people died? Had someone tampered with the plane? Had someone known that there were rocks under the soil of Wilbur Johnson’s field? And who would have had the technical know-how to force the plane down in that field? Was it murder, or just his imagination?
A blaring horn brought Frank’s attention back to his driving.