The Special Prisoner
Bishop John Quincy Watson, a man of God and grace, was yanked back into his ordeal of hate and horror by a pair of eyes.
They flashed at him from out of the crowd in a concourse at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport-DFW as it was known by those who knew airports. He stopped with a jolt and turned around. He fixed his sights on the backs of people walking past.
None of the backs looked familiar.
He walked toward Gate 32A, where he was to board a flight to Washington's National Airport.
The bishop hadn't seen the face, only the eyes.
Whose were they?
Then he knew. It came to him cleanly, clearly, and absolutely. The eyes were those of a man he knew fifty years ago as "the Hyena." He knew it with a crushing certainty that was as unshakable as John Quincy Watson's faith in the Almighty.
For reasons of exercise and pride, the bishop seldom used the motorized carts provided at airports for the old and lame, choosing instead to make his way slowly on his own with his ivory-headed cane. He was seventy-one years old and retired from his post as the Methodist bishop of San Antonio, Texas, but he did not see himself as an old man. Not yet. He was still active, traveling extensively around the world as a guest lecturer and preacher. He was on his way now, in fact, to address an ecumenical prayer breakfast at a large Methodist church in one of Washington's Virginia suburbs.
Now he did raise a hand to hail one of the carts, which fortunately had no other passengers. He told the young man driving that he was in a terrific hurry to get to the opposite end of the concourse.
They beeped their way through the crowd of people and their various rolling suitcases. "Right here, son," said the bishop to the cart driver after several minutes. "Let me off right here, please."
There he was, the man with the eyes. It was him-his height and build, his bearing and presence. There he was handing his boarding pass to a female flight attendant at the grate. There was the man John Quincy Watson would never, ever forget. Watson walked as fast as he could, but the man was down the boarding corridor and out of sight by the time the slow-moving bishop reached the flight attendant. He ignored the other passengers in line and went right up and asked, "Was that man's name Tashimoto?"
The flight attendant, a forty-ish woman with short brown hair, looked at him as if he were a potential bomber or masher. But after a second or two of further inspection she must have concluded he was safe because she looked down at the stack of tickets on the stand in front of her. "Yes, that's what it says
on the ticket-T-a-s-h-i-m-o-t-o ' " she said. "Now, if you'll
move out the way, sir, so we can resume boarding?"
Bishop Watson said, "Where is this plane going, please?"
"To San Diego," she said, pointing to an electric sign near the door that said just that.
"I'd like a ticket, please."
"We're already overbooked, but see the agent at the counter.
The agent confirmed that there were no seats on the plane, and Watson couldn't convince him or the attendant at the gate to let him on for just a few minutes to simply look at the passengers. He told them that he saw a man board whom he had known many years ago.
Against the rules, they said. Permission denied.
In a few minutes the boarding door was closed. Bishop Watson stayed right there and watched through the large plate-glass window as the plane - he recognized it as a Boeing 757-backed out from the gate. Now and then he had wondered what it would be like to fly one of these jetliners compared with Big Red, his B-29, and the other propeller planes he had flown in World War 11. But it was only an occasional wonder. In fifty years he had never even entered the cockpit of any kind of airplane.
Excerpted from The Special Prisoner by Jim Lehrer Copyright© 2000 by Jim Lehrer. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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