An official leave of absence allows one to become quite comfortable with time off, yet somehow it acts like a revolving door, with no clearly defined ending. Such was the current situation Vera Hanson found herself in. She had returned home to find her golden retriever, Kelli, overjoyed to see her after so many weeks of separation. Their reunion brought a sense of stability that they both craved, causing neither to want to leave the other’s side.
It felt good to be home in Seattle, and to reacquaint herself with Kelli and their routine of walking along the beach, visiting the local Starbucks, and watching the ships glide in and out of Puget Sound. So much had happened to Vera in such a short period of time that she appreciated a break from the commotion in order to put it all into perspective. She poured herself a large cup of tea and settled into her favorite window seat that looked out across the water toward the Olympic Mountains. It was a bright clear day, unusual for Seattle, and though it was too cool to venture outside, the splendor and magnitude of her view allowed her thoughts to become vividly clear.
Her husband Jeff had been murdered in order to keep him quiet about his discoveries concerning the 9/11 terror attacks. Max Hager had been the first to verbalize that truth, and he too had been silenced, suffering the same fate as her husband. She knew the evil cabal responsible for their deaths still lurked in the darkness and was willing to strike out at anything or anyone that threatened its existence. Vera was outraged that they had killed Jeff, and angry with herself that she had refused to demand an investigation. At least when they chose to murder Max, they made it impossible for the authorities to write it off as an accident—rocket-propelled grenades left no doubt as to the perpetrator’s intentions. After that, Vera had begun to question her own safety. After she and her friend, Jim Bowman, had discovered that the four airplanes on 9/11 had been remotely flown to Westover Air Force base, she’d had no doubt that her life, too, was in danger. But to Vera, what she had done was like striking a blow to the head of a snake, and she was willing to risk everything to assault it again and again.
With the truth now in place, she could begin to properly grieve and allow those who had passed from her life to rest, bringing to her own soul some needed comfort. She reached down, letting her hand drift until it found the top of Kelli’s head. She scratched her behind the ears the way Jeff did, which always caused the dog to whimper gently with delight. That familiar sound caused Vera to smile and bolstered her inner resolve to move forward.
She slowly sipped her tea, allowing each mouthful to linger, savoring its flavor. It was a habit she had developed whenever she had something weighing heavily on her mind. The piquancy of the tea seemed to focus her attention. When she finally swallowed, it was as if a signal would shoot to her brain indicating that decision time was at hand. For more than thirty years Vera had enjoyed her career as a flight attendant. She was good at it. In fact, there were few better. She instilled confidence in the crew members and passengers she flew with, and they trusted her to handle any situation that might arise. That kind of respect only came with experience. When, on occasion, she had mentioned her possible retirement to some of her pilot friends, they begged her—and then threatened to bribe her—to remain on duty. Their reactions always made Vera laugh, but deep inside it was validation that she had reached the top of her profession, and that was a very comfortable place to be. Most of all, she loved interacting with the passengers. Of course, they could be sharp, demanding and unruly at times, but her smooth manner mixed with an aura of authority always seemed to mitigate any tense situation that arose. There was nothing she wouldn’t do for the flying public. On more than one occasion she had found herself in the aisle of a jet, performing CPR on a passenger. She had developed a legacy which she was proud of and a reputation that was the envy of her peers. Her previous thoughts of retirement had never really been too serious, and the bribes from the pilots had never needed to be more than them paying for dinner in a foreign country.
Daylight was fading and Vera’s favorite time began to stretch its glistening glow upon the city. She stood, quietly gazing at the beauty of the scenery only a Seattle skyline could offer. Yet even in the ambiance created by such a pleasingly familiar sight, something inside was beginning to shift. Her thoughts returned to the passengers on her flights, the thousands and thousands of faces whose names were never known or if they were known, were forgotten as quickly as they stepped off the plane. The moment she put on her uniform and reported for duty, her life transformed. No longer was she just a woman from Seattle; she was a trained airline professional, responsible for the safety and welfare of sometimes hundreds of people. She often wondered if a similar transformation took place for police officers and firefighters when they donned their uniforms. This sense of responsibility was one thing she loved about her job, and why she had never seriously contemplated retiring.