As my time competing in the NYC Midnight 2015 Flash Fiction Challenge has officially come to an end, I figured it was high time to share my stories! This was my submission to Challenge #1 of Round #1. It had to be historical fiction, take place predominately on an airport runway, and include a can of beans. This story came in 7th place in my group, earning me 9 points for the first round. Enjoy!
During his first moment of respite on that fateful day, Special Agent Jack Ready looks back on his actions and contemplates whether he did all he could to save the one man he was sworn to protect. After only three years in the service, is his career already over?
Worthy of trust and confidence. The motto keeps ringing through my head. I close my eyes, leaning back against the cool shell of the plane, trying my best to shut out the chaos surrounding me.
My arms ache and I open my eyes, unable to look away. It sits right across the aisle from me. Before we arrived, someone had removed two rows of seats to accommodate it. My mind races as I think of what must have gone on inside this aircraft as they waited on us to arrive with such precious cargo.
I look down at my watch. It’s only 2:20 in the afternoon. The vice-president rushes past me, searching for something or someone. He grabs the pilot, speaking harshly to him and I can see the pilot nodding stiffly, wanting to argue but knowing there is nothing to do but obey. I close my eyes, awaiting the hum of the plane that will signal us leaving Dallas for good, but I can’t help but go back to the moment when everything fell apart.
Racing to the hospital, my knuckles turn white as I try to hang on. I strain to see what’s happening in the vehicle ahead of us. Agent Hill jumped off our own car almost immediately after the shots, running ahead and leaping onto the back as the first lady lunged at him, trying frantically to remove herself from the vehicle. I’d wanted to jump after them but the cars had immediately sped away. My mind flashes to the image of the first lady and her once-pink suit. Chunks of something dotted the front of her; it looked like a can of beans had exploded down her front. I shudder at the thought and pray we’ll make it in time, if it isn’t already too late.
How had this happened? I can’t stop asking myself. He’d put his trust in us to keep him safe from any and all harm and we’d failed in a most spectacular fashion. My fists clench in angry defeat.
We’d argued with the president in the past few days about upping the security on his own vehicle. He’d waved us off and we’d acquiesced. What else could you do? We knew of no known threats. There was no reason to add more.
Through the cacophony of voices on the aircraft, I start to hear what occurred on the plane prior to our arrival. The vice-president had been ordered to take off for Washington immediately. They had to get him back to safety and up to speed as fast as possible.
He had refused. He wouldn’t leave Dallas without the first lady, and she wouldn’t leave without her husband. It was a chain reaction of demands that left Air Force One stranded until all were aboard.
Now, with everyone accounted for, we all await takeoff but it still won’t come. There is one thing left to do. I stare over at the coffin, remembering when we received the news.
The president is dead. It’s official. My body is numb. I’ve been on the job less than three years. This was my first post, my first grand assignment. I got to protect the president. How many agents get to say that?
We failed. The president is dead.
I stare ahead, out the window of the car transporting us to Love Field where Air Force One awaits us. There is a white hearse ahead of us. I can see the outline of the first lady, sitting in the back alongside her husband. She refused to leave his side.
There’d been a huge debate about taking the body. The Dallas County Coroner had initially refused to release the president to us, alleging some law that stated the autopsy had to take place in Texas. Needless to say, he hadn’t won that argument.
As we pull onto the grounds of Love Field and the mass of Air Force One comes into view, I can’t help but let my eyes well up with tears. For some reason, being here makes it official.
We lost him.
We’d had to break off the handles of the coffin to get it through the door. The first lady remained stoic throughout the whole event, a show of grace I will never forget. Now, she sits in her bedroom aboard the plane. The vice-president’s personal items had already been moved in when we arrived, much to his dismay. He released the room to her with his apologies. She didn’t say a word.
I notice the flurry of voices dying down and I glance up from my seat. Surprisingly, no one has bothered me since I initially sat down after bringing the president on board. Most of my fellow agents stand at the perimeter, wanting nothing more than to remain unseen.
I see the first lady emerge from the bedroom. She walks over to the vice-president where a small woman stands before him, bearing a bible before her. She still wears the blood-soaked pink suit and my mouth drops at the sight. All at once, I understand and rise from my seat to bear witness. Without any pomp or circumstance, the oath is recited:
I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
And just like that, a new president is born. There is no celebration. The first lady takes a seat next to her husband. I sit back down, wondering where my career goes from here, or if I’ll even have one. Everyone disperses, ready for takeoff. I look up at President Johnson and wonder if he’d even have me. He looks over at me, nodding his head just barely. I think back to our motto and hope I can be worthy once again.