Jake’s On A Plane

Jake’s on a plane and he’s heading into Palatka. He’s excited. Not about Palatka. Palatka is a humid and dusty spot not far from Florida’s armpit. Call it a mole on Florida’s chest. Call it whatever you wish. Jake’s on a plane and he’s headed for his college roommate’s wedding in Palatka. Florida.
+++++It’s been four years since Jake’s seen Dave. Four years since they tore it up in Mt. Pleasant. Four years since they graduated from Central Michigan University. Four years since that senior trip to Daytona where Dave met Maggie and he was gone, baby, gone. How could he not be? She wore the skimpiest of bikinis. Her skin was the color of a Thanksgiving Day turkey breast. And her tots were as big. Long black hair, deep brown eyes, and an ass he could curl up on like a cat on a pillow.
+++++Jake would know.
+++++Jake’s on a plane and he’s flying back into trouble.
+++++He doubted Maggie told Dave anything. Why would she tell Dave anything? It was just that one time. Two years ago. Hell, Dave and Maggie were barely an item. She lived in Ohio still finishing her studies towards a Master’s degree in reading. On her way to being a Highly Qualified Master Teacher with a national endorsement. Whatever the hell that was. Jake drove down with another buddy to go to the Michigan State game, the one where the Spartans beat the Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium. A hundred thousand people in scarlet and grey jerseys and who does he run into?
+++++Maggie Upton.
+++++He saw her three rows in front of him in the alumni section. He cupped his hands around his mouth, yelled her name, and finger-whistled. She turned around, recognized him, and drove a line right through the crowd to hug him. Jake can still feel that hug. Feel her tots dressed and undressed. Jake remembers all of it.
+++++Jake’s on a plane and he’s heading to Palatka, Florida to stand up in his college roommates wedding. A wedding he is actually surprised is happening. That day in Columbus, when he bumped into Maggie he was sure, so very sure, well, maybe not completely certain Maggie and Dave were all but kaput. She never actually came out and said it. They were on a break, maybe. Or maybe she didn’t say that as much as the Tequila Sunrise bangers convinced him she’d said that. Whatever. There they were. She gave him the tour of Columbus and later her apartment and later her bed. It concluded with a tour of her erogenous zones.
+++++And why not? He’d seen her first in his version of the story. Dave sabotaged him. Dave went behind Jake’s back that night at Big Daddy’s in Daytona Beach and—
+++++What had it mattered?
+++++He had Maggie on her back, his shaft between her hot tots. She let him finish on her face.
+++++Jake’s on a plane and he is flying into Jacksonville to drive two hours west to Palatka. Tomorrow is the rehearsal dinner. When Dave first told him he was getting married—to Maggie—Jake anticipated being the Best Man. A Groom’s Man was still cool. He almost asked Dave why he wasn’t the best man. He had anticipated Dave telling him, ‘Fuck off, twat. I know about you and Maggie. You still think I sabotaged you.’
+++++‘You did.’
+++++‘I waited for you to make your move. You never made it.’
+++++‘You went behind my back.’
+++++It was bullshit. Jake opened the door with women all the time. Maybe he got tired of being the wingman. Maybe he figured he was making up for missed opportunity in Daytona. Maggie was into it that night. Not so much the next morning but what the hell it happened.
+++++Jake’s on a plane about to land in Jacksonville. He’ll rent a car and drive two hours west to Palatka where he’ll be Groom’s Man Number Two at his college buddy’s wedding with a woman they both slept with. He’s really not feeling it any more. He contemplates telling Dave about the events surrounding the Michigan State-Ohio State game.
+++++A hot blonde flight attendant named Katie tells everyone to put on their seatbelts, place their trays in the locked and upright position, and prepare for landing. Jake hates this part of the flight. The screech of rubber, the bounce, the vibration. He’d take any other form of death other than dying in a plane crash. All that fuel. All that fire.
+++++The landing could be smoother. The exit could be faster. The overheads could be emptier.
+++++Jake wheels his own luggage down the aisle. He passes a smiling Katie the Flight Attendant.
+++++“Have a good visit,” she says.
+++++“I’m going to a wedding. Want to be my Plus One?”
+++++“Sorry. I have to fly back to Detroit in an hour.”
+++++“Yeah, well, I might be on the same flight.”
+++++Jake walks down the exit ramp. Airports used to be a hotbed of hello hugs and goodbye tears. Now the gates are mostly empty once everyone boards. Those who are there have gathered around monitors watching local reports of a wild fire near Gainsville.
+++++Jake heads for the car rentals. Ignores the news.
+++++Up ahead there’s a balding man, dark tinted glasses, navy blue jacket and khaki pants holding a sign with Jake’s last name on it. The sign flaps in the holder’s left hand. He switches it to his right.
+++++“You waiting for a Jake Robinson?”
+++++The man with the sign nods. “I have a car right outside those doors. Would you care to use the men’s room before we leave?”
+++++“No, I’m good.”
+++++“It’s a long ride to Palatka.”
+++++“Then let’s go.”
+++++“I’m going to use the restroom.”
+++++“You do that, buddy.”
+++++“It’s Charlie. Hock. Charlie Hock is my name.”
+++++“I’ll be right here, Charlie.”
+++++“You sure you don’t have to go?”
+++++“Fine. I’ll go.”
+++++The two men go into the restroom. Ten minutes later they walk out together. Charlie Hock’s car is a silver and grey Traverse.
+++++“You work for Uber or something?” Jake asks.
+++++“Or something.”
+++++“Do I ride in the back?”
+++++“If you don’t mind. It’s just under two hours from here to Palatka on a normal day.”
+++++“Isn’t this a normal day?”
+++++“Wild fires. Parts of Interstate Ten are closed from smoke or the fire is too close to the road.”
+++++“How long now?”
+++++“Three. Four hours. You want to pee again?”
+++++“Let’s just get on the road.”
+++++Jake’s on his way to Palatka in the backseat of a Chevy Traverse when he falls asleep. It’s a good sleep. He’s never been able to sleep on a plane. Riding in the back of the Traverse he feels safe. He relaxes. He dreams about making love to Maggie and Katie the Flight Attendant aboard the plane. It’s a really, really good dream until Katie pulls away. She has a puzzled expression.
+++++“Do you smell smoke?”
+++++Jake wakes up. The car has stopped. He does smell smoke. Burning trees. It makes him jump.
+++++Charlie Hock is not in the driver’s seat. Charlie Hock sits on the hood of the car. Eating a meatball sub. Watching the fire.
+++++Jake gets out of the car. “Are you fucking nuts? There’s a wild fire coming at us. You’re eating a meatball sub.”
+++++“It’s called a hoagie down here.”
+++++“I don’t give a shit. Get back in the car and get us out of here.”
+++++“You want some?” Charlie Hock holds out the meatball hoagie to Jake. His hand jerks.
+++++“No I don’t want some. I want to get out of here before that fire flashes us into charcoal.”
+++++Charlie Hock puts the uneaten portion of the sub back in the bag. He rolls the opening down then crimps the seam. After a moment he stands and cracks his back and walks the sandwich to the cooler in his hatch. He presses the Lock button on his key fob.
+++++“Hey. You locked me out.”
+++++“Step away from the car, Mr. Robinson.”
+++++“Excuse me?”
+++++“I said step away from the car.”
+++++A pine tree crackles. It breaks in half. The burning portion falls to the ground in an explosion of orange sparks zigzagging away before they cool and die.
+++++“All right, motherfucker. Give me the keys.”
+++++“You want the keys? Here you go.”
+++++Charlie Hock winds up like he’s playing centerfield for the Marlins and pitches the keys into the fire.
+++++“You fuckin’ dipshit. What the fuck are you—”
+++++Jake stops. He’s looking down the barrel of a nine millimeter. It jerks left. Charlie Hock shifts it to his right hand.
+++++“What’s wrong with your hand?”
+++++“Nothing’s wrong with my hand.”
+++++“Are you scared or something?”
+++++“I’m not scared.”
+++++“I am. We’re in the middle of a fire and you’ve got a gun on me and I have no idea what the fuck is going on.” Jake stops. “Dave found out.”
+++++Charlie Hock looks surprised. “Who the hell is Dave?”
+++++“The guy who hired you to kill me.”
+++++Charlie Hock shakes his head. “You got it wrong.”
+++++“Yeah? I slept with Dave’s fiancé.”
+++++“Oh yeah. Maggie sends her love.”
+++++“Maggie? Why would Maggie hire you?”
+++++“I don’t do a lot of talking with my clients. And actually, motive only counts in cop dramas. My guess is she doesn’t want your friend Dave ever finding out about the two of you.”
+++++“I’d never tell anyone.”
+++++“Well, you told me.”
+++++“So you’re going to kill me?”
+++++“I’m going to give you a chance. You can run into the fire and see if you can find the keys and I’ll let you drive out of here or I’ll shoot you.”
+++++“And you’ll just walk out of here?”
+++++“Oh yeah. Hadn’t thought about that.”
+++++Charlie Hock raises the gun again. Jake Robinson runs into the fire. His frightened mind shows him paths through the fire. Flames don’t touch him. Heat envelopes him. He breathes it in scorching his mouth, esophagus, lungs. At one point he stumbles over a burning branch.
+++++Jake’s on a plain that is burning like hell’s backyard. It’s getting harder to breathe. If he doesn’t find the keys soon, he’ll die in a fire which is why he never wanted to die in a plane crash.
+++++All that fuel.
+++++All that fire.
+++++He runs on then doubles back. Charlie Hock didn’t throw them that far. Did he throw them at all?
+++++Something sparkles in the fire. It’s the keys. Jake scoops them up. The keys are warm. Hot. They burn his hand but he holds on to them. He carries them to the clearing but the car is gone. How can the car be gone if Jake holds the keys?
+++++A second set of keys.
+++++Jake’s mind snaps. He looks to the smoke filled sky and laughs.
+++++A plane flies overhead. It ascends and follows an unseen point. The smoke blocks his vision. It’ll clear in a moment but it won’t matter because Jake will be dead. Smoke inhalation will knock him out and then the fire will consume him.
+++++Something hard and hot hits Jake in the head. He dies before hearing the rapport of a gun. Dies before he sees Charlie Hock aim a rifle over the roof of the Traverse. Dies before the fire consumes him. Dies before he tells Dave all about Maggie.
+++++Just as well.
+++++Tomorrow is supposed to be the happiest day of their lives.

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Jack Bates
Jack Bates is an award winning writer who has a screenplay option and several ebooks to his credit. He is actively seeking representation.
Jack Bates

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