man standing inside airport looking at LED flight schedule bulletin board
This arti­cle is part 10 of 17 in the series The D.C. Reunion

Friday, September 23rd.

Flight 5888 from Nassau was due into Dulles at 1150.  I arose at 0700, being awak­ened by the phone ring­ing as I had left a wake-up call for that time.  As polite­ly as is pos­si­ble for me at that time of morn­ing, I thanked the hotel oper­a­tor and walked sleep­i­ly to the bath­room for a show­er and shave.  I want­ed to get an ear­ly break­fast and get on out to the air­port.  In my busi­ness, it’s always bet­ter to be too ear­ly than too late.  While it’s unlike­ly for any flight from any­where to reach its des­ti­na­tion ear­li­er than expect­ed, pre­pared­ness is a key to success.

I dressed as I would expect to if I were actu­al­ly going to be fly­ing, grabbed the car­ry-on that L.T. had pro­vid­ed, and head­ed down to the Lafayette Room for break­fast. Not know­ing when I might get the chance to eat again, I ordered two eggs, sausage pat­ties, toast and mar­malade, and a stack of pan­cakes, along with a glass of milk and the usu­al carafe of cof­fee. I wolfed it all down rather uncer­e­mo­ni­ous­ly, signed the tab, picked up the car­ry-on which had been under my chair, and left to make a stop at the lob­by men’s room. 

I guess it’s fun­ny how we all fall into cer­tain pat­terns.  One of mine has always been to make a toi­let call right before head­ing out for a day’s sojourn.  There are places where one nev­er knows where a restroom facil­i­ty will be avail­able and I sure did­n’t want to have an urgent call at the wrong time while wait­ing for Panghurst.

Relieved of most of the morn­ing’s cof­fee, I exit­ed the hotel lob­by and asked the door­man to hail a cab for me.

“Mr. Tate?” he inquired.

“Yes.”

“There’s a car wait­ing for you there, sir,” he said, point­ing a few yards down H Street.

It was a typ­i­cal black gov­ern­ment sedan, sans any mark­ings, and I real­ized that L.T. had made it avail­able so I would­n’t have to resort to a cab.

Well, that was nice of him, I said to myself as I opened the rear door and entered.

L.T. was­n’t in the car.

“Mr. Trane said to deliv­er you to Dulles, Mr. Tate,” came from the dri­ver as I eased myself into the seat.

“I appre­ci­ate it.  You my back­up, too?”

“Oh, no sir.  I’m just a dri­ver.  Someone else will be at the air­port for that duty.  Maybe more than one per­son.  I’m not real­ly sure.”

“That’s okay.  I appre­ci­ate the ride.”

“Sure thing, sir.  Do you need to stop any­where on the way?”

“Nope.  I guess I’m good to go.”

The trip to Dulles was passed most­ly in silence.  I assumed that L.T.‘s man knew not to ask too many ques­tions dur­ing an oper­a­tion, and I real­ly could­n’t think of much to talk about with him either.  I was still going over the sce­nario in my mind, try­ing to draw out any pos­si­ble wrin­kles or unfore­seen possibilities.

It was about 1015 when the car pulled up to the drop-off area of Dulles.  Not know­ing what to real­ly say, I sim­ply thanked the dri­ver for the lift and head­ed into the ter­mi­nal and straight to the secu­ri­ty area, where I obe­di­ent­ly took off my shoes, emp­tied my pock­ets, and placed the car­ry-on on the con­vey­or belt.  I guess who­ev­er packed the car­ry-on had for­got­ten that TSA offi­cers are required to remove any liq­uid con­tain­er hold­ing more than a cer­tain amount of flu­id — and the bot­tle of green tea was tak­en and deposit­ed in a near­by container. 

I walked through the met­al detec­tor with no prob­lem and gath­ered my items at the oppo­site end of the con­vey­or, head­ing to the gate area where Panghurst was sched­uled to arrive.  I stopped on the way to check one of the flight boards to make sure flight 5888 was still com­ing into the same gate.  It was, so I hus­tled on to the near­by area that I had pre­vi­ous­ly staked out and took a seat, much as any wait­ing pas­sen­ger would.  I had no doubts that I fit in and would cause no sus­pi­cion from any secu­ri­ty personnel.

The area I had cho­sen to wait in was oppo­site the gate where Panghurst would de-plane. I picked a seat that gave me a good view­ing point to that gate but was suf­fi­cient­ly back that I would not draw notice from him.  Putting my car­ry-on on the floor beside my seat, I extract­ed one of the mag­a­zines and made as though read­ing, while keep­ing an eye on the com­ings and goings around me.

By this time, it was near­ly 1100 so I had near­ly an hour’s wait but was for­tu­nate that pas­sen­gers sched­uled to leave from the gate where I was seat­ed were begin­ning to arrive and fill in the seats.  This was an advan­tage as it would make me less con­spic­u­ous with a crowd around me.

Time seemed to pass excru­ci­at­ing­ly slow­ly, and 1150 came and went.  It was only a short time lat­er, how­ev­er, that the pub­lic address sys­tem announced that flight 5888 was arriv­ing.  It was 1208.  I guess that’s not too bad con­sid­er­ing air trav­el these days.

I placed the mag­a­zine back into the car­ry-on, stood up and moved out into the con­course area, but to a posi­tion I con­sid­ered would be “upstream” from the direc­tion that Panghurst would be mov­ing.  With him mov­ing away from me, I would have a bet­ter shot at mak­ing an “acci­den­tal” bump into him from behind.

The deplan­ing crowd began to erupt through the door­way, most of them head­ing to the bag­gage claim area, some going toward var­i­ous snack bars or restrooms.  After sev­en­ty or eighty pas­sen­gers had come through the door­way, I was begin­ning to won­der if Panghurst was even aboard this flight when I noticed the white hair and beard that gave him away.

I was prepar­ing myself to move behind him when he turned in my direc­tion!  The best-laid plans, etc.

Where the hell was he going?!

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.

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