Howard coughed again, hacking up a wad of mucus flecked with blood. He looked at it fuzzily then wiped it on the bedspread. Was it three or four days now since he'd left home? He picked up the phone and called home again. The message was the same. "Hi, this is us, Howard I hope its you, I took Sheila to the hospital, they admitted her for pneumonia, but they say she'll be ok. I'll call you at the hotel later."
She hadn't, he wondered if she would and his fever ridden mind drifted back, He'd caught the flu from Sheila, how did she catch it again? She was over it. Blood? He'd coughed up blood, that was bad, he needed a hospital, but his body was so heavy and cold he didn't think he would make it by himself.
He picked up the phone and dialed the front desk, it rang and rang, but no-one answered. He gave up and dialed 911.
"911 emergency services."
Howard tried to answer, but only managed a dry croak.
"What is the nature of your emergency?"
He tried again and managed a raspy whisper that hurt his throat. "Help, ambulance."
"Is someone injured?"
"Me, fever cough blood." His head spun and he couldn't understand the reply, so he croaked out "hurry" and dropped the phone on the floor."
The woman on the other end tried to get him to respond, but he didn't hear her, his delirium took him back home to his family.
Howard coughed, phlegm smacked into his hand, white, tinged with yellow. He hurried to the bathroom and washed it off his hands, then went back to packing. Clair put her hand on his forehead, it was cool and soft against his skin. "You have a fever, it must be that flu Sheila brought home from school, maybe you better stay home."
He took he hand in his own and kissed it, "I'll be alright, she got over it in a day, I will too. This meeting is important, after I get back, we can all take a vacation." She looked dubious, she obviously remembered that he'd said the same thing before last week's convention. That trip sure hadn't been worth it, the convention closed the first day amid rumors it was a target for terrorists. "Really, I've already put in for the Monday and Tuesday after I get back."
She smiled, tears glistening in her eyes."I'll miss you, come back safe." She wiped the tears away with the back of her hand. One. She helped him pack his bags and move them to the front door of their apartment.
His daughter woke up as they moved the suitcase past her door. "Daddy?" She ran out in her PJs. "Kiss me goodbye daddy." He picked her up, and she kissed him. Two.
"Keep the change."he handed the cab driver two twenties and stepped out onto the sidewalk, dragging his bags behind him. Three. He whistled tunelessly, and tried to ignore the woman in front of him as she bellowed into her cell phone. He showed his ID at the counter, and had his boarding pass changed to an isle seat. Four.
The Homeland Security drones made him take his laptop out and the guy running the scanner tossed his unopened apple juice into a bin. He grimaced, sometimes they would take things and sometimes not, but it wasn't worth it to fight city hall. After he rounded the corner, the security guard reached into the bin, cracked open the apple juice and took a long pull. Five.
His flight originated in Miami, He was one of six people who boarded the plane at Cleveland-Hopkins, The luggage compartment above his seat was full, so the stewardess offered to stow his carry-on away forward for him. Six. After the plane took off he had another coughing fit, and went to the restroom to wash his hands again, he didn't notice the minute traces he left on the door and faucet, nor the near microscopic particles that escaped into the cabin as he coughed his way down the isle. Twenty-One.
The flight crew came round serving drinks, he took an apple juice and then settled into a fitful sleep. The steward took his trash away and folded the table for him. Twenty-Two. The pressure change of landing went straight to his sinuses, and he had a pounding headache by the time they landed in Chicago. He didn't bother to stand until the isle cleared, then he made his way through the crowded terminal to make sure of his gate.
Behind him, the crew made a cursory cleanup before they reloaded the plane and flew it back to Miami International. The armrest of his seat, one of the seat backs and a moist hand print on an overhead bin each managed to infect somone. Twenty-Five.
Three grueling hours. He called his wife, just to check in, then forced himself to eat some lunch, making sure to get a receipt for reimbursement, Twenty-Six used one of the stalls in a restroom, Twenty-Seven then sat and waited for his flight, near a half dozen troops on their way back to Iraq. Twenty-Nine. His flight was announced as delayed and moved to a different gate. The chair he vacated was taken immediately by a couple of kids flying to Los Angeles with their parents. Thirty-One.
The flight attendant scanned his boarding pass, Thirty-Two. and he filed onto the plane. He rested his hand on several seat backs on the way to his seat. Thirty-Four. This time he was alone on his side of the isle and could stretch out. He should have worked on his laptop, but instead leaned back his seat. He was asleep before they left the runway and didn't wake until they landed in Salt Lake City. About half the cabin emptied there, including one of the people he'd infected. He also got a seat mate who would connect to a Korean Air Lines flight to Hong Kong, with a Layover in Tokyo. He coughed in his sleep, infecting not only the man next to him, but the woman in front. Thirty-Six.