By Leia Fee
Frohike pulled into the airport parking lot, stopped the van, switched off the engine and turned in his seat.
“Right, Langly, empty your pockets.”
“You heard. We’re not having a repeat of that fiasco at the prison with your damn firewire card. Whatever random junk you’re carrying this time, leave it in the van.”
Demonstrating, Frohike pulled out a penknife and multitool from his own pocket.
“I somehow doubt that airline security would be impressed by the number of different functions.”
“But I need this stuff,” Langly complained.
“And we need to catch this flight.” Byers cut him off. “Frohike’s right, Langly. We don’t want to get stopped.” He climbed out of the van and started unloading the luggage.
“Yeah, like I’ve going to hijack a plane with a wirestripper,” Langly muttered but started turning out his pockets onto the seat.
A penknife, pair of pliers, mini screwdriver set and a floppy disk were dumped in a small pile. Langly spread his hands, palms upwards, over it.
“What are you taking as carry-on?”
“Err, my rucksack?” Langly gestured at the tatty bag.
Langly gave an exaggerated sigh and after some rummaging added to the pile, a roll of duct tape, a pair of wire cutters, several more screwdrivers, a soldering iron, a patch lead and a packet of chewing gum.
Frohike pushed the gum back towards him. “What about the laptop case?”
“Now I really need everything in there,” Langly protested.
“Let me see.”
“Uh-uh,” Langly pulled the bag towards him.
Langly sighed and surrendered the bag.
Frohike rifled through it.
“You don’t need this, for a start.” He pulled out a network test tool. “And it’s got a pointy end.”
Langly rolled his eyes. “It’s a tone trace. Nobody could be remotely threatened by that. What I am going to do with it? Beep at them?”
Frohike ignored him and added the tool to the pile.
Byers reappeared at the van door. “Are we done?”
“Commandant?” Langly asked sarcastically of Frohike.
Frohike ignored him and answered Byers. “We’re done.”
Eventually they made it to the check-in point. The woman behind the desk looked at Langly, with his tatty rucksack over one shoulder and the laptop bag over the other, and frowned.
“One item of carry-on.”
Langly shook his head and shrugged the latop bag forwards. “That’s just a laptop.”
“Company policy is one item of carry-on.”
“Look, the rep on the phone told me that the laptop case wouldn’t count.”
The woman cocked her head at him, the tolerant smile somehow managing to be both excruciatingly polite and utterly patronising.
“I’m sorry sir, but the rule is, one bag.”
“One bag. So if I take the computer out and carry it under my arm…”
Before Langly could protest further, Byers interrupted.
“There’s clearly been a misunderstanding. Excuse us one moment, we’ll just rearrange the bags.
Langly complained bitterly as he divided the stuff from his rucksack between the laptop bag and the carry-on bags of the other two.
“This is ridiculous. We’re still taking exactly the same amount of stuff on!” Savagely he jammed the folded up rucksack into Frohike’s carryall and spun back to the desk.
“Better?” he snapped.
The woman smiled silently at him, handed them their boarding passes and told them to have a good trip.
Langly was still muttering as they approached the security check point.
“The woman on the phone did say I could take the laptop on. I’ll play it for you when we get back.”
“Oh forget it already, Langly!” Frohike shook his head in exasperation.
He stepped through the metal detector, which promptly sang out. Behind him Langly snorted derisively.
“Van keys,” Frohike sighed, pulling them out and dropping them in the tray. Second try and he was through.
Langly followed him without incident and went immediately to the conveyor belt to retrieve his laptop.
Byers walked calmly through the detector, smiled politely at the security officer and moved to join the others.
“Excuse me, sir.”
Byers looked round in surprise at the guard who had addressed him.
“Yes, can I help you?”
“Random check, sir. If I could have a moment of your time.”
Byers sighed and stepped to one side, out of the way of the people trying to get through the metal detector behind him. He shook his head quickly at Langly and Frohike who looked about to protest.
“What do you need?” he asked.
“Ticket and ID to start with.”
Byers fished in his pocket to pull out his boarding pass and driver’s licence.
“John Fitzgerald Byers,” the guard read aloud. “All right. Step this way, Mr Byers.”
Waving at Langly and Frohike to stay put and wait for him, Byers followed the guard.
“Empty your bag and pockets onto the table please.”
Byers pulled his wallet, ticket and passport from his pocket, placed them onto the table then reached for the zip on his bag.
“Did you pack this bag yourself?”
“Yes. My friend put some extra stuff in just now, but I was with him.” He pulled out Langly’s stuff as he spoke, the spare t-shirt, half melted candy bar, squashed bag of potato chips and dog-eared book contrasting sharply with the neatly packed order of Byers’ own things.
“Has the bag been out of your possession since it was packed?”
“No.” Byers lifted out a washbag, razor and change of clothes then a large cardboard folder where he had the research for his current story which he’d planned to work on during the flight.
The guard looked quickly inside the now empty bag them started rummaging through the contents. He unzipped and emptied the washbag, shook and checked the pockets of the clothes and switched the razor on and off. He picked up Langly’s book and raised his eyebrows as he turned it round to show Byers the title, Cryptonomicon.
“It’s science fiction,” Byers explained to him. And Langly must have read it at least a dozen times so why he had to bring it on this particular trip Byers didn’t know.
The guard looked distinctly under-whelmed. He put the book down and picked up the folder. He flicked through the contents and his eyebrows rose again.
“Interesting reading material.”
Byers craned his neck to see which page the guard was looking at but his question was answered for him by the guard’s next words.
“The Lone Gunman?”
Byers had forgotten he’d stuffed a draft copy of next week’s issue into the folder. He’d hoped to have time to get it proofread.
He gave the guard an awkward smile. “Uh…”
Eventually security decided that a rather eclectic selection of reading matter wasn’t enough reason to prevent Byers from catching his flight and sent him on his way. He caught up with Frohike and Langly loitering near a coffee shop, having been told to move away from the security checkpoints while they waited.
Langly glanced at his watch as he approached.
“Took their time didn’t they?”
Byers sighed and nodded. “Can we just get on the plane before anything else happens?”Behind them, the plaintive cry of another interrupted traveller demanded, “Do I look like Fidel Castro here?”
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