This is Part 1 of a four part short story told in reverse order, so while this is the first part for you, it’s the end of the story.
Michael crept quietly out the door, still carrying his shoes. Once outside, he sat down on the stoop and quickly slipped into his chukkas and tied the laces. Glancing up, he saw the lights were still out in the brownstone. That’s perfect! he thought, and headed down the street.
He checked his watch. 3:18. Enough time to get back to his hotel, pack his bag, and get to the airport for his 6:30 flight. He’d only made it a couple of blocks when more luck came his way: a taxi. He’d have plenty of time now.
“The Fitzpatrick, on Lexington,” he said, climbing into the back seat.
“Have a nice night?” the driver said, with a knowing grin.
“Indeed, I did,” he replied.
The drive back to the hotel was uneventful, but that didn’t stop Michael from checking behind them to assure himself he wasn’t being followed. I’m just being paranoid, he thought. I was very quiet, and the lights were still out when I left. I’m fine.
He paid the driver and got out of the car, double checking to make sure his prize was still in his jacket pocket. He strode through the lobby and punched the button for the elevator. Luck was still on his side, the doors in front of him opened immediately.
Once in his room, he shoved his belongings into his bag, making sure he left nothing behind. He dropped the hotel key on the dresser and left. Given the early hour and the speed with which he’d packed, he was unsurprised the elevator was still on his floor. Now if there’s a taxi out front, I’ll be at JFK ahead of schedule, he thought.
A yellow car was parked just up the street from his hotel. Please don’t be the same guy who picked me up earlier. He crawled in the back and said, “JFK, please.”
“No problem,” the woman said. “Early flight?”
“Yes, back to London.”
“Oh, that’s nice. Did you enjoy your stay in New York?”
“Yes, very much.”
“You here for business or pleasure?” she asked.
“A little of both,” he replied with a grin.
Once he arrived at the airport, he still worried about being followed, checking over his shoulder every few minutes. Once I’m through security, I’ll be fine, he kept repeating to himself. The airline only had one line open at this hour, and it took him a bit longer than he would have like to get his ticket.
“How are you this morning, Mr. Clarke?” the perky young woman at the counter asked, glancing down at his passport.
“I’m quite well, thank you. But ready to be home.”
“Enjoy your flight, Mr. Clarke. And thank you for flying British Air,” she said, handing him back his passport and giving him his ticket. He scooped up his paperwork and headed toward security. He couldn’t help looking over his shoulder to see if anyone was there. You’re being silly, he thought, reprimanding himself.
Once in line for security, he placed his bag on the conveyer belt, his shoes, wallet, and keys in the bin, and stepped through the metal detector. The alarm sounded immediately, sending a shock of panic through him. A scowling TSA agent stepped in front of him, blocking his path.
“Can you please empty all of your pockets, sir?”
Michael felt around, and his hand hit on his night’s work in his jacket.
“Oh, I forgot about this,” he said, extracting the small antique wristwatch from his pocket. “A gift for my wife.”
“Place it in the bin, and step through again, sir,” the man said without an ounce of amusement in his voice.
Michael did as instructed, and the alarm was silent. Relief washed over him, but he was still worried he’d drawn too much attention to himself.
What a rookie mistake! he thought. So stupid!
He collected his belongings, hurried to his gate, found a seat against the wall, and waited.
The gate agent seemed to be in no hurry to get people boarded once the call had been made. He chatted with each passenger as he took their tickets and welcomed them individually. Michael practically snatched the boarding pass from his hand and hurried down the jet bridge. The flight attendants greeted him warmly, and he nodded in their direction as he proceeded down the aisle to find his seat.
He kept a steady eye on the front of the plane, scrutinizing each passenger as they boarded. When the flight attendants closed the door and began their preflight safety routine, Michael finally exhaled, realizing he’d been holding his breath. That chapter in our lives is done. We can put it behind us forever. But, his tension didn’t fully ease until they were in the air, jetting across the Atlantic.
After landing at Heathrow, Michael made his way through customs and caught a cab to home. He’d never been so pleased as he was when he arrived home, his front door opened, and his wife greeted him with a hug and a kiss.
“I am so glad you’re home,” she said
“Not nearly as glad as I am,” he replied, kissing her once more.
Once inside, he reached into his pocket.
“I have a gift for you,” he said, pulling out the watch. “I saw it in an antique store, and it reminded me of the one you said your grandmother gave you.”
“Oh Michael, you shouldn’t have,” she said, hugging him again. “It looks just like it.”
Examining it more carefully, she gasped. “This is my old watch!”
“What?” he said in surprise.
“Look. The inscription on the back. To my little Lizzy. That’s what my grandmother always called me. She had it engraved before she gave it to me. How ever did you find it?”
“I was just wandering through an antique store and thought it looked like the one you used to have,” he said with a smile.