Chapter One Continued.
As Gary approached Portland Metro, he checked his watch as he got off the freeway at 181st and drove over to Halsey. Mentally he was shifting into the mission, running through the precise timing in his mind. There was an Arco right on the corner. Normally he didn’t like to use Arco gas in the Cadillac, but he was on a specific route, so he fueled up, threw an additive in the tank, and headed south on Halsey to 122nd. Turning north, he pulled into the WinCo parking lot at 7:30. WinCo is open 24/7, so there were going to be people in the lot. It also had fast access to 84 eastbound, so he and Paige wouldn’t waste any time getting out of Portland. Walking inside, he grabbed some food and ice. After returning to the car, he stashed it in a cooler and sent a message for an Uber. He also had a few items in a separate sack; he wanted the driver to think he made a quick trip to a store from a hotel. Every detail was meticulously predetermined.
Grabbing a small backpack he had placed in the trunk next to the cooler, he waited for the Uber. The pack had some random women’s clothes in it from the things Layla kept at the house. Nothing in the pack would raise suspicion if someone checked it at security, not that they would. Still, a couple leaving the airport without any carry-on was a detail which might be remembered by a taxi driver.
Once he picked Paige up, they needed to make a seamless trip out of town with the least people seeing them as possible. When you look like nothing is out of order, people do not remember you. Gary did not want to stand out in any way.
The Uber trip to the Radisson Hotel took twenty-two minutes, so he was looking great to catch the flight. He called a taxi at the hotel to pick him up for the quick trip to the Airport. The small bag of food having served its role, he left it in a hotel garbage can, jumped in the taxi, and arrived at PDX at 8:45.
Flights were cheap, so he had purchased a ticket on a commuter flight from PDX to SeaTac. That gave him security access to the terminal, besides, he was having fun running up John’s tab. Mobile check-in made the process fast. Having his boarding pass, he cleared himself through security and quickly made his way out to Concourse C.
Paige was going to arrive at Gate C15 at 9:45. At 9:20, Gary went to pee, got a bottle of water in a shop, and settled into a chair at Gate C5, watching the crowd. He was not expecting anything, but he enjoyed watching people, wondering where they were going and who got laid that morning; it surely was not him, he thought. It is said that men think about sex every seven seconds; Gary thought about that as he watched a beautiful flight attendant strut down the concourse; seven seconds seemed about right.
He found himself watching her walk, dragging a carry-on. She looked like any other example of the corporate uniformed attendant, slim and hair drawn up into a cap. He wondered who her lover was, if she waxed, and what her panties looked like. She looked like she would be fun in bed. It was a nice thought anyway that at least SOME of those people got lucky that morning! It was just a game he played to pass the time in airports, trying to figure out, by how they looked or walked, who did and who did not. He wondered if women knew what men were thinking and if they thought similarly. He knew at least some women did.
He sat there a while longer, perving on the citizens, mentally blocking out the chatter and noise of a morning airport. When he got bored with his little game, he checked his phone to see if the new client had responded, passing the time as any other idle passenger waiting for a flight.
A bouncing leg betrayed the fact he was antsy, just a little on edge. He wondered what this girl was like and what he was getting himself into, inviting her to his home. He decided he was not really worried, just on the edge of excitement.
He calmed himself as her arrival time got closer, mentally running through every step of the plan, focusing on the details. Did he leave anything out? Over and over he ran through the details, step by step, but he found no fault. Finally, watching the arrival boards, he saw her flight had landed; it was time to make his way to Gate C15.
As he approached the gate, he began surveying as far as could be seen up and down the concourse, looking for anyone out of place; anyone watching who did not look like they belong there. Nothing is out of place, just an everyday bunch of commuters at PDX.
CHAPTER TWO – Paige
As people started streaming out of the plane, Gary was leaning against a concrete column, watching carefully. After a few minutes, a girl in a T-shirt with UNLV on the front, came through the door. She was about 5’-8” tall, and was very slim, weighing about 115 pounds, he guessed. Her brown eyes were nervously scanning the crowd. Afraid and alone, she reminded him of a rabbit, ready to bolt in any direction. He imagined that when she was healthy, she walked smoothly, graceful like a runway model, but today her movement was slightly stifled, and her posture and furtive glances showed her nervousness.
Even damaged he could tell she was stunning, the kind of woman who made people stop and stare as she entered a room. Today she was drawing people’s attention for another reason, and it was obvious to Gary what John left out of the details. She’d been beaten. Not beaten as-in getting slapped around a little, some asshole had kicked the shit out of her. Her face was bruised, and her still partially closed left eye looked like she’d been in an MMA fight. Across her swollen eyebrow, there was a nasty cut which probably should have had stitches. The right side of her mouth was still fat, and her cheek had a deep blue bruise. She also had bruises on her arms, and from the way she walked, bruises on her legs as well. Somebody had done this girl bad, and Gary’s visceral reaction, knowing John had shot them, was that death by shooting was WAY too painless.
If the fuckers weren’t already dead, I would do it myself, to make sure it was done properly, with an eternity of agony.
His rage was there, he could feel it just below the surface, but for now it needed to be confined. For now. She did not need to see his rage, or even feel it, but he knew he would find the rest of them, eventually. When he did, he would feed them to his rage, like wood to a chipper.
Calming himself, he stepped forward. She was gathering her thoughts, trying to orient herself as she got off the plane. She was not expecting him in the concourse, so she focused on the signage. Seeing the directions to Baggage Claim/Ground Transportation, she turned in that direction, then she saw him. As he stepped closer, she focused on his approach. She paused and tensed up, fear on her face.
Holding his hands up, he tried to calm her, “It’s ok, Paige, I’m Gary Booker. How was your flight?”
“Oh, wow, you startled me!” she slurred as her posture relaxed. “I wasn’t expecting you here! I thought you would be outside.”
“I know, but I didn’t want you to have to stumble around trying to find your way out alone. So, your flight was ok then?”
Knowing she had been through a lot at the hands of some asshole, he was trying to slide into some normal conversation to help them both relax. He was not sure it was working. He let her dictate their interaction. It was understandably slightly awkward; he was not going to initiate physical contact by shaking hands. The stiffness between them passed quickly as he directed her down the concourse to the baggage area.
“Yes, it was ok, short, which was good.” Her answer implied it was not comfortable to sit in those commuter jet seats for long periods.
He realized she referred to her bruising, and he thought the reclining leather seats in his sedan would be better for her. “What’s your last name, Paige?”
“Stewart,” she replied. “Paige Stewart.”
As they walked down the concourse, he was studying her casually. She had a smooth stride, but there was some hitch in her movement. Bruising, he thought. The fuckers probably didn’t leave much untouched. He found himself wondering how far her abuse went. The anger was heating up again; he needed to press it down and focus, concentrate so they would safely get to the Caddy and head east, out of town.
The T-shirt and jeans were new; he figured that was John’s doing. Her shoes were older, but in good shape; 2-inch heels, slingbacks. Dressy. Her hair was beautiful,
somewhere between a light honey brunette and a dark blonde. It fell, un-styled but with natural body, to just below her shoulders. Not wearing sunglasses, she carried an over-the-shoulder purse which showed some wear, but it matched the shoes. It was stylish but not expensive.
He decided she probably shopped at Target or Ross, maybe Kohl’s, so a stop at Target in Yakima should be the right place to get some clothes. He liked what he saw, very much. Given some time to heal, this was a girl who he might have seen in a bikini modeling shoot in Tahiti or Maldives.
He had been trying to avoid being obvious as he studied her. Now she looked at him blatantly, scanning him from bottom to top. Her appraisal rested when she reached his eyes. With a soft tone and an embarrassed expression, she said, “Thank you for picking me up. I’m sorry, I look so bad.”
“Don’t give it another thought. We don’t have far to walk, then we will take a taxi out of the airport,” he offered, letting her know whatever pain she was in wouldn’t be drawn out.
“You didn’t drive?” she asked nervously, while trying to sound casual.
He looked at her and smiled, trying to assuage the nervous fear which was not far below her surface. “Not into the airport,” he answered. “I parked offsite; we will take a taxi ride and then an Uber before we get to the car.”
He watched her eyes for an indication of what she was thinking. “You are safe, Paige. We are the best in the world at this. Nobody can track you or hurt you again. From now on, you have a team of dangerous people on YOUR side. They would have to kill us to get to you, and that is not going to happen.”
Her next look, a slight nod, told him she understood. She had seen the outcome of their work in Vegas. Then she looked at him, her bruised and broken smile sealed his fate, and he felt the click as her vulnerability synchronized with his need to be a hero. Obviously, she paid the price in pain to give him that smile, and he valued it immensely as a result. Quickly she glanced away though, not sure how to trust someone after what she had been through.
Damn, this girl is beautiful, he thought. John, what did you get me into here?
Something about her was magnetic. Her smile, even with bruised and cracked lips, was wonderful. Her eyes, even dulled with caution, drew him in. He wanted to help bring a sparkle back to those eyes. He could feel it. Even with the age difference, he felt the slide of his heart, and as they walked together, shoulder to shoulder, he liked the way she felt beside him.
“Thank you,” she said softly, looking straight ahead. Then, with a pause, she asked, “What’s in the pack?”
“I brought it so it would look like you were coming off of a flight, back from vacation,” he replied. She nodded, getting an appreciation for the level of detail he anticipated.
Approaching the ground transportation area, he told her that when they were in the cab and then the Uber, they needed to appear like she was headed home from a trip where she took a tumble. “The story is, I’m your uncle, come to pick you up at the airport because you were hurt in a surfing accident in California. It is important you don’t talk more than in short replies.”
“When we get into the cab we are going to a hotel at the airport. From there, we will call an Uber to take us where I have the car parked. Does that make sense so far?” He waited for her to nod her head. “It will be ok, just play off of what I say. Don’t talk to the drivers; let me take care of that.”
“Uncle Gary, huh? I can do that.” She gave him another crooked smile.
To Be Continued!
If you are enjoying this, please consider going to Amazon and giving us a review! In tomorrow’s post, Gary and Paige continue their journey north out of Portland. As they travel, they begin to bond in a complicated manner, man and woman, hero and victim.