Otis Dugan didn’t smile easily. His serious demeanor complimented his physique. He didn’t have the bulked out mass of a body builder, but there was very little fat to be found on him and he moved with the balanced grace of a dancer. His alert posture and his habitual scanning of his environment spoke of someone dangerous even to men who couldn’t articulate precisely why they felt that way after meeting him.
He was a Chief Warrant Officer, recently retired, with a long stint before that as a E7 Specialist Armorer. He knew every sort of small arms the North American military used in intimate detail, and quite a few of the foreign and civilian arms special forces seemed to collect along the way and forget to destroy or turn in. He was every bit as expert in their use as he was in their care. That he considered his body just another weapon to master was an obvious extension of his world view.
Safety Associates of Atlanta happily employed Otis the two years since his discharge. They also employed a lot of common rent-a-cops nationwide in retail stores and manufacturing facilities, but the reason they bought his more exotic expertise was their very expensive personal protection services for celebrities and executives.
Like most truly dangerous men his biggest asset was not strength or lightning fast reactions, but intelligence and mental dexterity. Otis was brought in, not to stand watches like a younger man, but to be involved in planning and corporate liaison. He had advanced in the company already to making the pitch to the customer for such customized protective services.
He was signing for the company later today on a contract to provide such a package to one of the many small specialty studios for their off-lot film shoots. Most of the work was still routine, guarding actor’s private trailers and providing drivers off a secure production lot, but on rare occasions a film shoot put a star or an executive in very dangerous territory, the very worst being a public ceremony where others controlled the security environment. That would call for his personal attention running a team hands on. He also had to plan for such contingencies to be fulfilled on very short notice.
After a quick contract signing at the new customer’s studio in LA he’d be back in Atlanta on a late plane tomorrow. He was dressed in conservative business attire. His suit was far from his best, but a practical combed wool blend that would travel well and he could trust a hotel to clean without damaging it. Neither the suit or his accessories were flashy enough to attract unwanted attention. That was an important consideration, because even if he wanted to go through the hassles of sending a weapon through in his luggage the People’s Democratic Republic of Kalifornia as he called it, didn’t offer reciprocity for his Georgia CCW, or anyone else’s for that matter. Not even for a security professional. He hated the naked feel of going unarmed, but not enough to call in one of the company’s local men to protect him. It just didn’t seem to project the image he wanted to his subordinates.
It was a shame they couldn’t FedEx the documents around instead of meeting, but there were too many signatories scattered in too many places. Safety Associates would be fulfilling this contract internationally. The studio shot Nufilm or video, and had agents and subsidiaries, on every continent but Antarctica. He’d have flown back this evening but he’d been advised by his secretary that the President was scheduled in town on some sort of building dedication. Who knew what that would do to the flight schedules? Better to relax in his hotel until tomorrow.
He’d rather wait for them to clear the whole mess up than to get trapped on a plane in a taxi queue for ten or twelve hours waiting for the big boys to wrap it up. He was flying conventional for economy too. Safety Associates didn’t throw money away on flashy travel. The ballistic flights, orbitals especially, would all be cleared to fly first anyway when they sorted everything out from the mess a VIP visit would make. The peasants in sub-sonic econo-airliners would be released to fly dead last. It might be midnight before everything was back to normal.
Safety Associates had been his second tier choice. Coming home from the service he’d found folks not much friendlier than the natives where he had served in the Trans-Arabic Protectorate. He was ready for a new start in a new place. The only place really fresh and new was off world, but finding a position there was harder than he’d imagined. They had enough high grade applicants they could be picky, and they were.
He’d sent resumes to a couple companies on ISSII and New Las Vegas when he first got out of the service, but nothing had come of it. A discrete inquiry to casino security on a working trip to New Las Vegas for Security Associates had bombed out too. He could have found work as a mercenary easily, but his skills were too lethal and direct for most domestic security or investigators.
He had the price of a ticket in his accounts, but after that he didn’t have enough to live more than a few months at the cost of living in orbit. So going up without a firm offer of work didn’t seem prudent. He wasn’t sure what they did with the homeless up there. They probably didn’t just shove you out of the air-lock. But somebody would be pissed for sure if they had to pay for a ticket down to be rid of him. Somebody who would likely make sure the cost of it would be taken from his wages for the next twenty years.
Applying to a foreign hab was a problem. If his boss found out he was looking for an off world job he might fire him, but he was sure he could still get other security work. On the other hand, if the government got wind of your interest in a foreign habitat then your loyalty would be suspect and you could be blacklisted for any work connected with the Feds. That made it far too risky to try unless it was a last desperate measure.
The seat he was in was too narrow for him in the shoulders despite being in first class. He had the window seat and could twist sideways rather than intrude on the other seat, but it was occupied by a boy of about twelve who was with the couple in the row behind. That made it much more comfortable than flying with an adult beside him. The kid played a computer game plugged into noise canceling headphones, and then slept most of the flight, obviously a veteran of air travel with no nervousness or awe like a newbie. His parents in the row behind were an unremarkable upper middle class couple, dressed for comfort, not business. Otis didn’t sleep where he couldn’t lock himself in. He wasn’t diagnosed as hyper vigilant, but his attitude was common in a veteran.
He’d walked to the lavatory twice, which helped the boredom and restlessness. If you went too often the crew would mark it as suspicious behavior. The three movie choices were insipid, and he didn’t want to work where someone might read his screen. The news was the same old – same old. Another boatload of English had drowned trying to escape to Ireland. The only variation being they went down in bad weather instead of being shelled by His Majesty’s Royal Navy. The Australians were having dust storms blow in from South East Asia so bad they were having brown-outs because the automated cleaners couldn’t keep the solar collectors clean. Sometimes he wondered how much of Indonesia could blow away before there wasn’t anything left. In the end he turned it off. He knew from firsthand experience how bad things were overseas. No reason to think it would change anytime soon either.
The man directly in front of him slept, getting a pillow before they even took off. The fellow beside him up there on the aisle seat stayed awake like Otis. The one time he had gotten up and walked to the toilet he had gotten Otis’s attention because he examined everyone in the cabin much like Otis did. Indeed it seemed to amuse the fellow a little when Otis returned his stare without embarrassment. He was perhaps a couple years older than Otis, in fact he looked a bit like his older brother, with a little grey at the temples and a neatly trimmed moustache.
The engines eased off cruising power and the airplane slowed enough he felt himself shift forward a tiny bit. They were starting the long descent for landing.
An attendant came back from the flight deck and said something to a man in an aisle seat further up front on the opposite side. Something about the tension in her stance caught his eye. The man got up and came toward the rear of the plane with the uniformed attendant following. When he was close but still about two rows away he produced a badge case and displayed it to the attentive fellow in the next row forward.
“Mr. Polzinsky? You are under arrest sir.” His right hand hidden behind him came around with an automatic pistol held in close to his side. He had his finger laid over the trigger guard with good discipline, muzzle dipped toward the floor slightly, but Otis had definitely heard the safety being taken off and the hammer was back.
Otis checked the pistol out quickly. The light caught familiar lines of engraving under the muzzle so he knew it for an Ed Brown made weapon, although he couldn’t really read it at this distance. That was reassuring. Anybody carrying six thousand bucks of pistol instead of government issue likely knew what he was doing with it. He also favored the 1911 model himself, though he liked the modern 12mm Hornady cartridge over the old .45 ACP. Otis was so close to the fellow’s line of fire he welcomed any small comfort to be found regarding the man’s competence.
The man he’d thought sleeping, directly in front of Otis, turned in his seat and produced a set of cuffs holding them in close to his chest.
“Air Marshal, I don’t know who you think I am,” the man protested, “but you must have me confused with someone else.”
“No sir and we’re not Federal Marshals. Look closer,” he suggested still holding the ID folder out, “we’re ONI Protective Services. If you’d turn slowly to your left and put first your left and then your right arm behind you my associate will cuff you.” He was attentive to the point he refused to blink, and Otis felt sure the slightest twitch on the seated man’s part would be fatal.
The fellow complied, very slowly. Otis was relieved when he heard the cuffs ratchet closed. The seated agent felt the man’s arms and waist band before ordering him up.
“I’ll have people meeting me at the gate, or their driver at least, and we can get my identity cleared up with no problem,” the fellow was still protesting.
“Yes sir, I’m sure they would vouch for you,” The agent agreed. “We’re quite aware you have deep local resources. That’s why we’re not getting off the aircraft in this jurisdiction. We’ll remain in the back of the aircraft for the layover and return to Atlanta on its normal turn around.” They ran a wand over him in the aisle, and Otis hoped they would do a full manual pat down in the rear before they got too comfortable.
The boy beside Otis was quite awake now, watching the drama with rapt attention. He leaned out looking back as the agents escorted the fellow out of first class cautiously. The attendant went ahead of them telling the passengers to stay seated and not interfere.
The speaker instructed them to belt up again. Otis had left his latched, just loosening it a bit. The boy turned and looked Otis in the eye for the first time, obviously excited at the arrest, but too well trained to speak to a stranger. Otis knew better than to speak to a strange child in public too. That was a quick way to get a trip to the local lock-up and a court ordered search of his home and computer spaces. Instead Otis turned and looked out the window at the rooftops flashing by and growing closer. They must be under a thousand feet now and the airplane’s wheels went down with a clunk.