Now for something a little different

Kevin found a men’s room in the terminal and changed into some relaxing clothes for the flight ahead. After clearing security and getting to his gate, he started breathing a little easier the closer he trudged down the walkway to the fuselage of the plane. It had been a long stressful week, working with his largest client in San Francisco, early mornings through late evenings for four days, and now it was very early Friday, time to decompress on the flight back home to Cleveland.

On routine, shorter flights through the Midwest, Kevin preferred aisle seats, but for the cross-country, five-hour flights across the Rockies, he opted for a window seat and a mildly cloudless day. He threw his roller bag into the overhead compartment and took ownership of 16a. Briefcase under the seat in front of him, he stretched into his seat while others became accustomed to theirs before departing the city on the bay.

Upon takeoff, no one was occupying the middle seat of his row. Ah, a little breathing room. He tapped the woman in the aisle seat on the shoulder to introduce himself. In a very business-like suit for the long flight, Angela was cordial and cool, not chatty. Unlike Kevin, who was going home, Angela lived in California and was going to Cleveland for a talk at Case Western Reserve University on diversity studies.

The food and beverage cart and flight attendants made it up and down the aisle a couple of times, so after snacks and drinks, people were either checking out the changing landscape of the ground below, looking at their smartphones or computers or settling in for a nap for the remainder of the flight. The sound of the plane had become drone-like, dull and routine — napping sounds. Many passengers in the window seats had slid down the shade that blocked the light coming in the window. Easier to sleep that way.

Not Kevin. He loved the cross-country flights because he rarely got to travel by car from home out West. While he enjoyed the snow-capped mountains, he also enjoyed the dusty deserts, the irrigated plains, the mirror-like rivers and the city and town landscapes that seemed to cradle all the geographic highlights.

Once, he flew directly over Pike’s Peak and marveled at how the trees had climbed up the side of the mountain to a point where they no longer grew any higher and the rest of the peak was just so much soil and scrub brush. He even saw the visitor’s center at the top. That had been his best view from a plane.

By now, Angela was nodding off and sliding her head from side to side in her seat. As he watched her, he smiled and thought of his wife, Christi, whom he would soon see and was waiting for him at home in Shaker Heights. He also thought about how much he missed his two daughters, Parker, 10, and Emma, 8. Parker was a pure, long-haired ginger, whose red locks were curly and bounced around her slightly freckled face when she ran. Emma loved Crocs and even had a pair for Cleveland winters. They were both growing so quickly. Christi never complained when Kevin traveled. She knew it was part of the job. And, as Kevin sat there, and the plains moved by below, he realized that his travels out west were, indeed, rare. Most of his travel was around the Midwest, but there were the twice-yearly visits to San Francisco and each time almost a week’s work of schmoozing and working to move his project forward.

While studying the terrain below, he reviewed in his mind the week. San Francisco had gone by quickly, but it was intense. Kevin knew he had to be ready with answers for any questions his clients had to continue to foster the confidence in him as the get-things-done guy and to keep relationships solid. He felt he had accomplished that goal.

While still looking at the plains and waterways, Kevin thought about golf, too. He had missed last week’s men’s weekly outing to go to California, but with today being Friday, he should be ready to go for tomorrow’s outing without the impact of too much jet lag. He looked forward to that.

He relaxed in his seat, and after a few moments he was gently snoring. Not loud enough to bother Angela, but certainly a bit above a whisper. Some time later, he startled himself awake when he heard the pilot come over the loudspeaker.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are approaching Cleveland Hopkins Airport. We are about 60 miles out. Flight attendants will make a final run up the aisle to gather any trash. Please bring your tray tables into their upright and locked position. We are about to land in Cleveland.”

Kevin rubbed his mouth, ran his hands through his hair and looked at Angela, who, too, was emerging from her nap. They smiled at each other. Kevin checked his briefcase while Angela adjusted her suit, so nothing seemed to be in disarray.

For the few remaining miles, flight attendants collected the trash and stored items that needed to be tied down for the landing. Many of the passengers were yawning and readying themselves for a landing soon.

Kevin looked out his window. A landing in Cleveland was always a mystery to him. He wondered which of the normal two landing patterns would the pilot follow. Traditional approach saw planes line up northeast of Cleveland over Lake Erie and fly southwest over downtown Cleveland toward the airport. This allowed the passengers to see Browns stadium, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the few skyscrapers of downtown, then over western neighborhoods as the plane approached the airport from the northeast. Then, there was the other approach. Some flights, usually coming north and east from their southern and western original destinations approached the runway from the southwest runway. No view of Lake Erie or downtown.

Since Kevin did not see any sign of Lake Erie, except off to the far north of Rocky River, he assumed the flight would be coming from the southwest.

He rested his chin on his wrist as the plane moved lower and lower. He noticed that the thick woods just west of the airport had begun to thin to just a few trees surrounded by pasture. They were getting close to the runway.

As the plane was roughly 50 feet off the ground, Kevin looked down and was shocked and overwhelmed at what he saw. There was a man in black pants with a white business shirt kneeling on the ground with his hands behind him, as if they somehow were tied together.

In front of Kneeler, there were two men, both in jackets, one in a baseball cap and one bareheaded — and neither of them paying any attention to the plane passing over them. Baseball cap stood directly in front of Kneeler, pulled out a handgun with a silencer and promptly shot the man in the forehead, the blood spewing mist-like from the wound in the back of his head, as if it were red spray from a cleaning container commonly seen in restaurants. The man fell to his side and the white business shirt was now blotchy red and white. The body did not move. The two men ran to a nearby car, but Kevin could not tell the make or model.

This happened as if in slow motion … but in a flurry of mini-seconds. Kevin watched all this from his seat. He started breathing heavy, his face pressed against the window. Angela began looking at him in a peculiar way. His mind was racing. What was that? Who were those guys? Why were they doing this, and just as the plane passed overhead? What had the Kneeler done to deserve this? Who was the shooter? Have others seen what I just saw?

He unbuckled his seat belt and stood up to see if anyone else saw the same shocking event he had just witnessed. No one else on his side of the plane appeared to be stunned.

He tried to form words to draw the attention of the flight attendants, but he was in shock. Plus, since they were landing, the attendants were belted into their seats up front.

He brusquely moved past Angela, and even though the plane was landing, he headed to the flight attendants. They saw him coming and they were prepared to act. As he tried confusedly to explain what he saw, they were having none of that. He was loud, anxious and scared. This was a passenger that needed to be belted in, and nothing would stop them from getting him buckled.

They forcibly put him into a nearby seat, retook their seats and watched him until the plane approached the gate.