A “Curses!: A Jack Swift Case” Excerpt (Travelogue)

TRAVELOGUE

The LAX terminal was cluttered with arriving tourists ecstatic at the chance to visit the sites and beaches where superstars, wannabes, and bohemians roamed. Departing locals attempting to escape the disappointing drudgery of a veiled oasis had to deal with one last flock of sightseers infesting their town—though they loved the attention despite their thinned eyes under designer sunglasses and pursed lips glossed over with inflated character. They were fake, and fooled the naïve into thinking they were relevant as photos were captured in passing, later to be shared as a wrongful celebrity sighting.

Jack Swift sat in a chair with a duffel bag at his feet, his eyes shaded by the brim of a baseball cap as he watched the madness stay strong on the common brink of unfolding. The pathways were disorderly, some moved at their leisure as the disorganized sprinted with stress guiding them to their gate, and most kept their eyes downward and locked on a black mirror. He was amazed that they could all navigate without a crash, but the conformity held a supple nuance, an unwritten agreement and balance through everyone’s peripheral.

“Zombies,” he stated.

A younger man across from him popped out one of his wireless earbuds and softened his grip on the tablet in his lap. “Excuse me?”

Swift explained, “Oh, I was just people-watching, you know, taking in all the madness. People sure are in a hurry all the time. Fastest damn zombies I’ve ever seen.”

“Tell me about it,” the man said, “I’m prepared for the apocalypse.” He flipped his tablet cover to the front and displayed his Zombie Outbreak Response Team decal.

Swift scanned his lanky acquaintance, taking notice of his tight denim, his bare ankles between his hemp loafers and the overstated curl of his cuffs, and his long mangy beard that reached for his bird chest and didn’t mesh with his slick parted mop above.

He disguised his sarcasm, “I don’t think we’re close to that happening, but if I’m wrong, I now feel safe. I have a friend who would think you’re something else.”

“Always nice to meet a fan,” he boasted with his palms out and phony chuckle meant to gain a similar response.

Swift instead directed his attention to a blonde woman spying him a few rows beyond the man. He noticed her appealing grin and tan shoulders protected by just the straps of a tank top. She flirted with him between the turns of her book pages, but he was soon interrupted once more by his bothersome new-found mate.

“That’s a sweet hat,” he said while adjusting his thick black frames that held very thin lenses, “I don’t recognize the logo though.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to. It’s a Hollywood Stars hat, the old Pirates’ PCL team from the fifties. Did you used to collect baseball cards or anything?” Swift reached into his duffel and began to pull out a sleek leather-cased binder.

“Retro. Sick. Nah,” he shook his hand with snobbish disgust, “I’m not into pedestrian things such as baseball, I do my own thing, one of kind you know, but you have to tell me where you got that hat.”

Swift snorted, noticing a handful of other people in the same waiting cluster of similar fashion and stature to the trendy man.

He slid the folder back into his bag. “Ah, I can’t tell you that, my friend, it was a gift.”

The man uncovered his tablet. “I bet I can find it.”

“I bet you can, but I don’t gamble.”

The beatnik offered a half-laugh, but his attention was fast detained by information leading to more distracting off-topic research.

Swift looked back toward the woman, but her empty seat was now being claimed by a worn businessman enjoying a quick meal, on course to grow into his loose suit.

Swift pinched his cheek with his mouth and listened to the overhead speaker that notified the waiting passengers, “Good evening, everyone, we’re going to begin boarding Qantas Flight 12 with services to Sydney at gate 154. First class passengers are allowed to board at this time.”

Swift gathered his belongings and rose. “That would be me I guess—time for this man to go work down under. I hope you have a nice flight.”

He tipped the brim of his cap as he walked toward the gate, bidding the young man a meaningless farewell.

“Yeah,” the hipster responded with new admiration and a touch of envy, “I’ll see you on the plane, man.”

Swift was being enchanted by his earlier crush who had already found her place in the moving line. “Maybe, my friend, if I’m not too busy.”

He walked up, scanned his passes, and disappeared through the door.

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