"I see." The woman sighed and forced her face into an uncomfortable smile. "You haven't been listening to me, have you, sir?"
"I've been listening," Corso said.
"Then you've heard me saying noon tomorrow, sir." She hesitated. "At the very earliest."
"I really need to get out of here."
She stopped fanning the pile of tickets and reluctantly made eye contact.
"As I've told you before, sir, all flights are canceled indefinitely."
"I've been stuck in this...this...facility for two days."
She sighed. "Sir...pleeease. It's inconvenient for all of us, sir, but I assure you there's absolutely nothing that can be done about it." She gestured toward the windows, shook her head disgustedly, and again used her square white fingernails to pick through the paperwork. Corso jammed his hands into his pants pockets, turned away from the Courtesy Desk, and walked to the window.
Outside, a thin curtain of snow and ice blew in from the west at a thirty-degree angle. Nothing moved. Daylight's footprints and tire tracks lay buried beneath yet another foot of freshly fallen snow, leaving the tarmac a solid, wind-whipped blanket of white.
Inside, O'Hare International Airport looked like a refugee camp. Every flat surface held either a stranded traveler or his baggage. Fifty yards away, at the far end of the concourse, a pair of soldiers, automatic weapons slung over their shoulders, crisscrossed the floor, stopping here and there to check a lock or gaze into the face of a sleeping citizen.
The helmets turned in unison as Meg Dougherty came striding around the corner, her tall laced boots clicking over the floor and her black cape fanning out behind her like a pair of ebony wings. She said something to the boys, but Corso couldn't make it out. The taller of the two gave her a small salute and then dug an elbow into his buddys ribs. The buddy leaned over and whispered something in his partner's ear. They smiled and bumped shoulders as she walked past.
In the harsh overhead lights, she looked like a vampire queen. Or maybe the angel of death. Pure Goth. Black all over. Cape, tights, boots, nails, lips, and hair. Better than six feet. Betty Paige on steroids, she cut through the artificial air like an arrow.
A muffled groan pulled Corso's attention to the window ledge on his right, where an elderly woman stirred in her sleep, sliding her wrinkled cheek into the small puddle of drool her mouth had deposited onto the side of her plaid Samsonite suitcase.
Dougherty came to a stop at Corso's side. She looked out the window at the winter wonderland. Then turned and threw an angry gaze Corso's way. He noticed, averted his eyes, and began to survey the icy night with renewed interest.
"You enjoy your little jaunt?" he asked.
"Nothing like a jog around an airport to clear the lungs."
He walked three steps closer to the giant pane of glass separating them from the blizzard. Put his hand to the surface for a moment. She followed him.
"It was a most informative interlude. It really was." Something in her tone alerted him.
"How so?" he asked.
"Well, first off, I found out we're probably not going anywhere." Corso eyed her. "Since when are you the weatherman?"
"Since I met a meteorologist in the bar."
"Nice guy...namea Jerry."
"Says this weather pattern is what they call a static low-pressure inversion. Says it's got Chicago surrounded."
"Says the weather pattern is stalled right here over the Midwest."
"Yep. According to Jerry, the storm's about a hundred miles across and not moving a muscle anytime in the foreseeable future."
"A hundred miles, huh?"
"That's what he said."