Pandora’s Case

Jett was sitting against the window of the Raleigh-Durham International Airport, waiting to board a plane to Los Angeles.  He watched people hurry down the hall in every direction, their suitcases clicking across the floor.  The air was thick and moist, a combination of the crowd of people and the heavy rain pounding the glass behind him.

His dark blue eyes glanced down at his watch – 8:15. In about five and a half hours, he would be standing in Los Angeles, taking a tour of CBS Films. As a kid, film had seemed like a distant dream, but with his internship in Los Angeles, he could see the dream playing out in his mind like the movies he was about to make.

He ran his fingers through his wispy black hair, his hands trembling a little from nerves. This is it, he told himself.  I need to make a good first impression.  Film is all about having the right connections.

His thoughts were interrupted as a stranger started walking towards him, staring directly at him. The man was wearing a black business suit and a pair of sunglasses, even though there was no hint of sunshine outside.  He pulled a heavy green suitcase behind him in his right hand and held a small black business case in his left.  Jett scanned the area to see if the man was looking at anybody else, but the closest person was ten feet away.  An uncomfortable feeling settled in him.  Turn around, please turn around, Jett prayed.

“Are you on the flight to Los Angeles?” the man asked, sitting across from him.

Jett, who had been inspecting his bag, looked up at the man. “Yes. Are you?”

“No.” The man pushed his sunglasses on his head, revealing dark brown eyes and a few freckles around his nose. “I had a flight to Los Angeles earlier today, but I got a severe asthma attack before we boarded, and the flight attendant wouldn’t let me on. The next open flight is tomorrow.”

“Oh,” Jett felt a little sympathetic for the man. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“That’s okay.” He shifted in his chair, his face serious.  “Could you do me a favor?”

Jett hesitated and then asked, “What do you mean?”

“I need to get this to someone in Los Angeles,” he explained, gently pulling up the case on his lap as if it contained fragile glass. “But I need it delivered today. It’s very important.”

“And you’re asking me to deliver it?”

“Yes.”

Jett stared at the black case. It was small enough to be a personal bag, so it wouldn’t cost him any more money to carry it on the plane.  Still, Jett could easily imagine a bomb, small gun, or some drugs fitting in there, and with terrorists being such a serious threat, it wasn’t hard to imagine.  How could he know if he could trust this guy?“What’s in it?” he asked.

“It’s nothing illegal, if that’s what you’re thinking,” he promised.  “It’s already been through the security check.”

Jett narrowed his eyes at the man’s face.  He seemed pretty sincere, like he was telling the truth.  Even if there was nothing illegal in the case, why was he keeping it a secret?  And why would the man trust him to carry the case on the plane?

“Look.” The man leaned over with his elbows on his knees and rubbed his face, taking in a fairly long breath. “You’re a college student, aren’t you?”

“Just finished my sophomore year,” Jett confirmed.

The man opened his leather jacket and carefully pulled out some bundles of cash from an inside pocket, keeping it hidden in his jacket so only Jett could see it.

“I know college is pretty expensive these days,” he said in a low voice. “I’ll give you ten thousand dollars if you take this thing on the plane.”

Ten Thousand Dollars.

Jett swallowed hard. Since he was a North Carolina resident, that much money could pay half of his tuition for one year at the University of North Carolina.  He knew it would be wrong to take the guy’s money, but he figured that he should at least take the case. It was very unlikely now that the man had put a bomb in it. Why would he blow up ten thousand dollars?

“Listen,” Jett said, after he had composed himself, “if you really need to get this case to somebody, I’ll take it on the plane, but I can’t take your money.”

“Please,” the man insisted, holding a bundle of twenty-dollars bills out a little farther. “A favor for a favor.”

The flight attendant started speaking into the microphone. “Good evening ladies and gentlemen. We will now be boarding for DL flight 1623 non-stop to the Los Angeles International Airport. Thank you for choosing Delta Air Lines.”

“Who should I give the case to?” Jett asked, before he could change his mind.

The man handed Jett the black case and the money. Jett carefully stuffed the money in his coat pocket and picked up his other carry-on bag.  “Give it to a very tall man wearing a trench-coat and a flat cap.”

“He’ll be waiting for you when you get off.”

“Okay, I’ll be looking for him, Mr.-”

But the man had already disappeared.

Jett climbed on the plane, shaking slightly from adrenaline, sweat starting to build on his forehead. After stumbling over people, he finally made his way to his seat. He put his carry-on bag below his feet and the mysterious black case in his lap. Jett ran his finger along the edge of it, finding the clasps to open the case, but the clasps didn’t seem to work. The case was locked.

Figures, Jett thought. He ran his fingers through his hair again, thinking of the worst that could happen. He considered convincing the flight attendant lady to let him go back to the gate, saying he lost his wallet. He would drop off the case there, never have to worry about it again, and still have the money. However, Jett couldn’t bring himself to do it; he had already promised the man to deliver it, and he wasn’t one to break his word.

However, the most compelling force that made Jett keep the case on the plane was natural curiosity. He couldn’t leave the case without knowing what was inside. Whatever it was, Jett would just have to wait five and a half hours to find out.

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