Listen to the full text of my short story, "Gate Time" (Brief text excerpt included below). It's a tale about young software salesperson who sees ghosts in airports:
Josh Gardner spent a lot of time in airports. That territory came with a job in software sales. As a sales rep for EntroSoft, Josh was responsible for three dozen corporate accounts in eleven states. Every week it was the same routine: airports and hotel rooms and rental cars. But EntroSoft’s commission structure was decent; and Josh preferred living out of a suitcase to being stuck in an office all day, like so many other working schmucks. It was still work—but work with a certain degree of freedom.
Not that there was no monotony involved. Flying often meant hours stranded in an airport, waiting for a connecting flight. When the flights lined up poorly, a layover could last as long as three hours.
The key to staying sane during a long layover was knowing how to entertain yourself. He had that problem solved. Airports were a great place for people-watching. Josh was in his early thirties and still single, so most of his people-watching involved people of the female persuasion. (And women always dressed to the nines when they flew.) But airports offered human novelties of every gender, age, and creed: foreigners babbling in incomprehensible languages, oddballs peddling flowers and handing out pamphlets, and so many businesspersons like himself.
Josh was not shy about talking to strangers (how could you be, and survive in sales?); and he occasionally struck up a conversation with someone who might prove influential in the next deal, or even the next job. It could never hurt to pad your Rolodex.
So Josh was not particularly taken aback when the man in the navy uniform spoke to him out of the blue. The two of them were sitting across from each other in a little island of seats in the middle of O’Hare’s Concourse B. Josh was just about to stand up and head to his gate when the sailor asked:
“Hey buddy, can I bum a smoke?”
The sailor was wearing a dark blue uniform and he had two chevrons on his sleeve. What did that make him? A sergeant? A corporal? Josh had never been in the military and he had no idea if the navy even had sergeants and corporals. Probably not—but no matter. The navy man must have noticed the half-full pack of Marlboros in Josh’s front shirt pocket.
Josh had started smoking in college, and he had continued the habit off and on since then. He was currently in one of his “on” phases; but climbing back onto the nonsmokers’ wagon was an item on his immediate to-do list.
“As a matter of fact,” Josh said, “You can have the whole pack. I’m trying to quit.” The sailor’s eyes lit up. He was a good ten years younger than Josh, maybe twenty-two or twenty-three.
“That’d be swell. Thanks.”
“Well, you’ve got it.” Josh stood up and pulled the pack of cigarettes from his pocket. He tossed them to the navy man.
“You’re a—” Josh gestured to the chevrons on the navy man’s sleeve.
“Seaman Second Class.” The navy man smiled. He apparently didn’t mind getting questions from a curious civilian.
Josh wasn’t done. “You’ve been in the Persian Gulf? Near Afghanistan? Iraq?”
The sailor shook his head. “Naw. I’ve been to Liverpool, Bristol. And Murmansk. That’s in Russia.”
“Say, let me pay you for the smokes.” The sailor began digging in his pockets.
“No. No. That’s not necessary.”
“I insist. There’s the better part of a pack here.”
The sailor withdrew a silvery coin from his pants pocket. Josh could tell from its size that it was a quarter. The sailor made a fist and placed the quarter on his thumbnail. He launched it with his thumb and it came rolling through the air at Josh.
That’s a cool trick, Josh thought, as the quarter spun end over end toward his nose. He would lose face if he failed to catch it, so he shot out his hand and caught the coin in midair. He pocketed the quarter without looking at it, thinking: Cool trick, but a quarter for a nearly full pack of cigarettes? Accepting the pack gratis would have been a bit less tacky.
“Well, you have a good trip.” Josh lifted his briefcase and carry-on bag.
“Same to ya, buddy.”
As he departed, Josh had a final thought: Hopefully the sailor remembered that smoking was illegal in U.S. airports. There were probably no such restrictions in Russia....
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