In the Age of Suspicious Objects
—fiction by Michael C. Keith

British Airways flight 239 bound for London from Boston lifted off of Logan Airport’s tarmac at exactly 7:15 PM. The flight was rarely off schedule, and BA prided itself on that fact. Passengers nestled into their seats for the seven-hour transatlantic voyage. An hour out, flight attendant Marge Coughlin was fetching an extra pillow for a man in Business Class when she noticed a small box in the same overhead storage compartment. She hesitated before touching it, and when she finally did, she quickly removed her hand from the object, believing she heard a sound emanating from it. Oh, my God, a bomb! she thought, her heart beat quickening.

Coughlin immediately called the flight deck and reported the suspicious device. “A funny whirring sound is coming from it, Captain. What should I do?”

The pilot turned the controls over to his first officer and headed through the cabin to where the strange object had been discovered.

“Okay, Marge, we’re turning around. Don’t move the box, and close the overhead door. Make sure no one gets near it. It may or may not be an explosive, but it certainly looks suspicious. Did you check with the other flight attendants to make sure it isn’t theirs?”

“Yes sir, no one has ever seen it before.”

The Boeing 777 captain informed Logan Airport that he was returning because of an unidentified object on the plane. He then announced to his passengers that a minor technical issue was forcing him to take them back to their point of origin.

“Goddamn thing’s probably on a timer and could blow at any moment,” he said to his co-pilot. 

“So you think it’s a bomb, Captain?”

“Not sure, but when in doubt, it’s passenger safety first.”

In slightly more than an hour, they were back on the ground in Boston and the plane had been safely evacuated.

                                                            *          *          *

Immediately after the deplaning of the last passenger, the State Police Bomb Squad removed the suspicious object and took it a safe distance from the terminal and other planes in order to detonate it.

The head of the bomb squad, Lance Burbeck, arrived on the scene to give the okay for the disarming of the object. But when he took a close look at it, he ordered his team to stand down.

“Holy crap! It’s a Victorian Komet Music Box,” he shouted, delighted.

“What sir?” asked Lieutenant Miller, Burbeck’s second-in-command.

“This is a very rare and valuable music box. I’ve been looking for one of these for years. I’m sure it isn’t rigged to explode. Nobody rigs up something worth thousands to blow up. We’ll take it back to the evidence locker, and when nobody claims it, I will.”

“Sir, we can’t do that until we know it isn’t dangerous.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Miller, I’m telling you it isn’t a bomb. Hold on.”

Chief Burbeck bent over the box and lifted it.

“Sir, be careful! It may go off. Everybody back up!” shouted Miller, who quickly backed away himself.

“Chill, guys. I’m telling you this is an antique, and you’ve heard the phrase finders-keepers? Well . . .”

Burbeck opened the top of the box and held it high in the air. “Yeah, a bomb . . . sure,” he laughed.

Wonder why it isn’t making music, he was thinking, just as a blinding light flashed and his body was reduced to charred fragments.

                                                            *          *          *

Three months later, Burbeck’s widow received a package in the mail from British Airways. It read:

            Dear Mrs. Burbeck, We have learned that your beloved late husband collected

            music boxes, and in his cherished memory we have acquired the one he had

long been hoping to add to his collection. Please accept it as a gift of

remembrance for you and your daughter. Sincerely, Myer Johnson, CEO. 

Mrs. Burbeck looked at the gift for several minutes and then deposited it in the trash. The following Thursday the barrel was picked up by the garbage removers.

“Hey, Charlie, I dug this out of the trash. Looks expensive, man.”

“Open it up,” said his cohort.

A clicking sound came from the box, followed by a rendition of the 1812 Overture.

“Damn, that’s sweet music. Ain’t that what they play with the fireworks on the Fourth of July? Why the heck would someone throw it out?”

Michael C. Keith writes fiction and teaches college.