Catherine saw him the moment he walked through the automatic doors. His skin was sweaty and pale. Dark sweat stains circled his armpits, and his cheeks were flushed under a tan cowboy hat. She knew he wasn’t a local, and the panicky scan that he made of the airport terminal secured that opinion. Catherine felt her heart flutter and she took a deep breath. Her line was empty, open, and the fat man was slowly working his way toward her. His beady eyes scanned an unfolded piece of paper, then the departure monitors, and then back to the paper.
Oh yes, she thought.
“Cat, it’s slow,” said Susanne. “I’m gonna take a break. You’ll be okay?”
Catherine smiled. “I’ll be just fine. Take an extra ten minutes if you like.” Susanne hurried off from behind the counter, and her movement seemed to catch the traveler’s eye. He saw Catherine, the empty line, looked at his papers once more, and came up to the counter. Catherine stood perfectly still with her hands folded at her waist. She was like a patient spider tending her web.
“Howdy, Ms,” said the large man. He blotted his forehead with a cloth and huffed his breath.
“Good afternoon, sir. May I be of assistance?” Her smile, although perfectly natural and downright beautiful to any casual observer, was growing wider.
“Well, shucks,” he said. “I certainly hope so. I seem to be in a bit of a pickle. Would you believe it?”
“Let me help you through your trouble, sir.”
“Well that’s more like it,” the man said. “I was beginning to think this whole blasted city had lost its manners.” He smiled wide, showing his mighty double chin and chubby cheeks. “I do believe I’ve missed my flight.” He slid his papers onto the counter and Catherine began to type.
Catherine’s eyes narrowed with sinful joy as she placed her hands on the keyboard. “Was there any trouble that prevented you for making your flight?” she asked. Not that it matters, old boy. You’re already mine.
“Well, yes’m, I suppose there was. The trouble was getting my fat behind out of bed on time.” Before the last words could fall from his mouth the man was slapping his fatty hand on the counter and laughing out loud.
Catherine’s smile grew and revealed a glimpse of white teeth. “Oh, now that is a pickle we can all understand,” she said with a wink. The screen in front of her came alive with fees and inflated prices, and she felt herself glaze over with the coming financial catastrophe. It couldn’t happen to anyone else more deserving, she thought. “Are you traveling to Texas?”
“Well don’t that beat all?” he said, tipping his hat. “Austin to be exact.”
Catherine took in a lustful breath. “You’re in luck, sir. There is one flight left. It leaves in 4 hours and 12 minutes. Shall I book you?”
“Well shoot yeah, honeybuns!” he shouted. “That’d be downright fantastic!”
Don’t cheer yet, my little treasure, she thought. You’ve no idea the cost. “There is a late booking fee of $75. Is that acceptable?”
The man’s smile faded in an instant and he secured his hat back onto his head. “Well, I suppose it ought to be. It’s my own danged fault that I didn’t make the first one.”
“And bags,” she continued, her fingers dancing across the keyboard with delight. “I see you have three. Those are $75 each.”
He chuckled. “Well heck. I still need ’em, don’t I?” He laughed again and slapped the counter. He threw his credit card and ID down in front of her.
Catherine’s eyes narrowed and her smile faded a bit. “And the ticket, of course, a one-way to Austin. $495. I’m afraid I can’t refund you for your previous ticket.” She watched the beady eyes of the fat man, hoping to see disappointment flood them.
“Put it all on there, little lady,” he said with happy spirits. “The good Lord above is just teaching me a lesson.”
“Of course, sir,” Catherine said. Her smile was severely diminished. The good Lord above appears to be wasting His time as well. She processed the paperwork, tagged the bags, and handed the man his ticket.
“Well, what a relief,” he said. “I’m famished. Y’all got someplace to eat?”
Catherine eyed the man’s plaid shirt that stretched tight across his ample belly. Some of the lower buttons appeared to hold a concerning amount of tension. “There are several restaurants where you can dine within the concourse,” she said.
“Thanks, little lady,” he said.
The man tipped his hat and walked away. As he did, Catherine watched him go. What a stupid, stupid man, she thought. He doesn’t even have the capacity to understand he’s been robbed. And even if he did, he lacks the dignity to be upset by it. The man sat and made a phone call from his cell. Within seconds he was laughing, his meaty hand slapping the armrest, and his ample belly rolling under the horrid shirt, threatening to spring loose overloaded buttons.
What a stupid, disgraceful man, she thought.