Incident at the Airport

A twin-engine plane taxied to a stop at a small airport fringed with palm trees. The passenger terminal was a dilapidated wooden structure hastily built for military planes during World War II. Ten years later, it had become a civilian airport. Huge doors at either end of the building were open to the sizzling heat that rose from the concrete runway.

When the propellers stopped rotating, two men from the ground crew rolled a set of stairs up to the plane. The stewardess, dressed in a stylish PanAm uniform, opened the cabin door and the plane quickly filled with steamy tropical air.

Edison Jones unbuckled his seat belt and then shuffled down the aisle to the exit. His father and mother were behind him.

“Hang on to the handrail, son,” said Mr. Jones as they emerged from the plane.

At the bottom of the stairs, Edison’s sister Charlotte was shifting from foot to foot waiting for her family to catch up. “You are so SLOW!” she grumbled to Edison.

Entering the airport, Edison saw a table laid out with tourist brochures and Dixie cups containing a raspberry-colored drink heaped with ice cubes. A large woman presided over the table, arms akimbo, and hailed the arriving tourists, “Rum punch. Have a complimentary rum punch.” Her job, which she took very seriously, was to make sure no one took seconds.

Charlotte reached for a cup. “Boy, am I thirsty!”

The large woman’s arm snaked out in a flash. Her fingers plucked Charlotte’s wrist away from the cup.

“Uh uh,” she said shaking her head. “Dat no fo chil’en.”

Charlotte twisted her wrist out of the woman’s grasp. “I beg your pardon?”

Edison, who had quickly filtered the woman’s Caribbean accent into conventional English, tugged on Charlotte’s arm and whispered, “She said it’s not for children.”

“Thank you Edison, that’s right,” chimed in Mrs. Jones. Turning to Charlotte she said, “Rum is alcohol, sweetie.”

“Well you’d think they’d have a sign!” exclaimed Charlotte in a huff.

Mrs. Jones put her arm over Charlotte’s shoulders and said, “Look honey, there’s a pop machine. I’ll buy you an Orange Crush.” She flashed a parting smile at the rum punch woman and ushered Charlotte over to the pop machine. She dropped a nickel in the coin slot. Despite alarming clunking sounds, the pop machine was working. A small cloud of cold air vapor bubbled out when Charlotte opened the lid.

“That feels so good!” sighed Charlotte, fanning the cool air onto her face and arms.

“Yes it does,” agreed her mother.

Charlotte plucked out a Coke and used the bottle opener anchored on the side of the machine to pop off the top. She glugged down a substantial quantity if pop in a most unlady-like fashion before she lowered the bottle and surreptitiously glanced around to see if anyone was watching. No one was, but she raised her pinky finger so she was grasping the pop bottle in what she fancied was a sophisticated manner, and proceeded to drink more delicately.

Mrs. Jones fed another nickel into the machine and turned to Edison who was just tall enough to see brightly colored bottle caps. Edison dithered over his decision. He fully intended to get the Orange Crush until he spied a Nehi Grape pop.

“Grape, definitely,” said Edison.

“Don’t drink while you walk,” commanded Mrs. Jones. “And for heaven’s sake, don’t spill it!”

They joined the other passengers grouped under a roughly lettered sign that said “Pick up bag here.” Mentally, Edison added an “s” to “bag” to correct the grammar.

Under the sign, a small door was propped open with the rusty hub of an airplane wheel. The crowd at the baggage pickup was hot, sweaty, and cranky. The plane had been on the ground for at least fifteen minutes, but there was no sign of the luggage.

Tourists, dressed for the flight weren’t prepared for the sweltering tropical heat. The men began to remove their suit coats and loosen their ties. Women used tourist brochures to fan themselves, wishing they could remove their girdles and stockings. A few islanders in light cotton frocks smiled and chatted quietly with each other, oblivious to the heat and the baggage delay.

When the first load of luggage arrived, the crowd surged forward. Edison was jostled from all sides. Worried that he might spill his pop, he was trying to wiggle his way out of the crush when he was nearly bowled down by a portly man clutching a black valise. The man’s escort, a human Tonka Truck, grunted and had little trouble bulldozing a path through the waiting passengers and porters. They swept past Edison who recognized the portly man as one of the passengers. The big guy, who had not been on the plane, growled “Vatch it kid!” in a thick foreign accent. Without breaking his stride, Mr. Tonka Truck pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his forehead.

Edison stepped out of the way only to trip over a piece of hand luggage, landing with a thump on his rear. He quickly scrambled to his feet. He was sure that everyone had seen him fall. They would be pointing a laughing―-probably would be talking about it for weeks. How mortifying.

Edison could barely look up. If he had, he would have been relieved that the luggage had arrived at just that moment and no one had paid the least bit of attention to him. Focused on the floor, Edison’s eye caught a glint of metal. He reached down and retrieved a thick black pen banded with silver trim. Thinking it belonged to the portly man or to Mr. Tonka Truck, Edison pushed his way through the crowd to catch up to them.

He saw the portly man get into a large black sedan just outside the terminal. Edison held up the pen, but it was clear that the man wasn’t paying attention. The portly man slammed the car door and the sedan pulled away.

Edison shrugged and tucked the pen into the plastic pocket protector that lined his shirt pocket then he slowly walked back to the baggage area where his father was gathering the last of their suitcases.

“There you are,” said Mr. Jones. “Come on, you can carry your mother’s cosmetic case.”

On the way out of the terminal Edison and Charlotte slid their empty pop bottles into the rack on the side of the pop machine. A line of ants was snaking up the rack and forming a dark mass in the bottom of a bottle on the lowest row.

“Yewh,” grimaced Charlotte. She stepped back quickly and picked up her feet with exaggerated delicacy.

“H-m-m-m,” murmured Edison, squatting down to examine the ants. There seemed a limitless supply of ants and they were sure attracted to sugar.

“Edison,” called Mrs. Jones. “Come on honey. We’ve got to get to the hotel.”

Edison sighed, “Yes, mom.”

Outside of the terminal a gnarled tree shaded a half dozen men sitting on aluminum lawn chairs drinking, eating sandwiches, and playing dominos on a dilapidated card table. A small hand-lettered sign propped up next to one of the chairs said “Dr. Jones.”

Edison’s dad raised his hand and waved. “I’m Dr. Jones.”

One of the men looked up and smiled. He turned briefly back to the game, triumphantly slammed down a domino, and then rose from his chair. He picked up the sign and held it up questioningly.

“That’s me!” Edison’s dad had to shout over a noisy group of tourists just emerging from the terminal.

The cab driver raised his arm and waggled his wrist. It looked like he was shooing them away.

“I think he wants us to follow him,” said Mrs. Jones dubiously.

They started across the road and that seemed the right thing to do because the cab driver nodded and lead them to a two-tone Chevrolet. The car was fire-engine red in front, with white fenders and top. The chrome trim gleamed to a high polish. The cab driver introduced himself as “Alfred” with the accent on the second syllable.

“Hop in meson,” said the cab driver in a lilting calypso dialect. “Ah gahn tek ahya HOE-tel.”

Edison translated mentally, “I’m going to take you all to the hotel.”

The cab followed a steep and winding road up a hill and down its other side always in view of the brilliant blue Caribbean ocean. A pair of donkeys watched placidly from the side of the road as the driver veered onto a lane overhung with a canopy of bright red flamboyant trees. He drove through a gate set in a stone wall and circled around a fountain to a shaded portico where a sign announced, “Welcome to the Island View Hotel.”

Edison and his family piled out of the cab. The driver had their suitcases out of the trunk in no time. He took the dollar bill offered by Edison’s father and with a quick “T’anks mon,” he jumped in the car, slammed the door, and peeled out.

Edison trudged into the lobby behind his sister. No one was at the desk. The hotel seemed to be deserted.

Edison looked quizzically at his mom. The hotel lobby was empty and quiet except for the wind rustling the fronds of a potted palm. Mrs. Jones shrugged as if to say, “Who knows?”

A minute or two passed in silence when Edison heard the faint sound of a vehicle approaching. The sound grew louder and soon a pick-up truck roared up and slid to a gravelly stop. A slightly faded pink-and-green-striped canopy covered the back of the truck where bench seats had been installed. A gaggle of tourists began to disembark.

The driver spotted Edison’s family, put his hand dramatically over his heart, and gasped. The sun glinted off his blonde curls as he jumped out of the truck and hustled behind the desk jabbering all the way in a garbled accent that sounded like it bubbled up from the bottom of a fish tank. “Owh. Mugh. Gowd. You can not be here so early.” (He made early sound like “Arugh-lee.”) I simply can not believe it.” He held up his watch theatrically. “You are on time in the Caribbean? No, no no. How can one plan if everything here isn’t late.”

He continued to talk while he rustled through a stack of papers. “I am Halston, at your service and welcome to the Island View Hotel. Now where is that check-in form?” He paused in his search for a moment and focused on Mrs. Jones. “Madame,” he intoned as if they were intimate friends, “if you are invited to dinner for eight o’clock, do not appear until nine or you will find your host in the shower!”

“I see,” murmured Mrs. Jones uncertainly.

“Now,” gurgled the Halston flourishing a half-sheet of paper with nearly invisible printing, “Please fill in the particulars and sign.”

Edison looked around. The reception area opened onto a pleasant courtyard that wrapped around a tall stone tower. The courtyard was dotted with tables, chairs, and colorful umbrellas. A brown dog slept in the shade, paying no attention to the tourists laden with shopping bags emblazoned with the red and white logo of a store called A. H. Riise.

Halston continued to chatter, “And now, here is a schedule of events. All in island time, and you now know what that means.”

He addressed Charlotte, “There is a jump up in Market Square tomorrow morning. It is the place for lovely girls to see and be seen.”

“Oh can I go?”  Charlotte’s eyes lit up. She liked the part about “see and be seen,” but the rest of it took a bit longer to process. “Uh, what’s a jump up?”

Halston laughed. “It is a group dance. Native music.” He turned to Edison’s mom. “Don’t worry madame, no partners.”

“Is it like the lindy?” asked Charlotte who kept up with all the latest fads.

“No, no, no, no, no,” clucked Halston. Without waiting for a response, he continued, “You must go. I will personally drive you into town. Madame can go shopping, and...”

He noticed Edison shaking his head, “...and we have activities here at the hotel for the young gentleman. Come,” he said not missing a beat. “I will show you to your room.”

On the way to the room, they passed the swimming pool, only half filled with water. A hand-lettered sign “Close” hung from the end of the diving board. “The pawhl,” gushed Halston, “needs just a teensy bit more water! You absolutely must be ready to swim tomorrow.”

The hotel had once been an air force barracks, a fact that could not be entirely concealed by tropical paint colors and newly installed bathrooms. The beds were covered in a splashy print, but the walls were bare. Mosquito nets hung from the ceiling, swaying slightly in the draft of a ceiling fan. The wood floor was painted white and dead center of the room lay a cockroach that Edison judged to be at least three inches long. Its legs were twitching. Charlotte, who had sailed into the room like an ocean liner, came to an abrupt stop and uttered one word, “Bug.”

Halston brushed the not-quite dead carcass to the side with his shoe. “Not to worry, missy. I will call the maid to dispose of the nasty little palmetto bug.” He ducked out the door calling, “Come down to lunch anytime.”

The room’s single window looked out over the ocean. In the distance Edison could see the shore winding back toward the airport.

Mr. Jones opened the window. “Look, son, you can see the old submarine base.”

“Where?” Edison wasn’t sure what a submarine base looked like.

“See the four long piers that stick out into the water? Those were the berthing areas for the subs. The first one is Alpha Pier. The others were called Marginal, Weapons, and Delta.”

“Weapons?” queried Edison.

“Look just on the shore behind the third pier. There’s a square building with a black roof. That’s where torpedoes and other weapons were stored.”

Edison’s attention shifted away from the submarine base while his dad continued to speak, “Not much activity there since the war.”

Edison shrugged. His dad was here to do something at the old base. It didn’t sound too exciting. Just a bunch of old docks and abandoned buildings. But that was not exactly true.

What  is Edison’s Dad hiding? Find out in Dead Chest Island.