Hard-Boiled Amateur Sleuth, Episode Ten

Written by Mark Wm Smith

An overeducated, blue-collar cowboy, Mark Wm Smith grew up on along the banks of the Yellowstone River in Eastern Montana. Raised by a long haul trucker and a bartending waitress, Mark learned the hard ways of the modern frontier, scraping life from the unforgiving high chaparral.

March 15, 2019

Murder at the Edge of the Orient, Episode Ten

The airplane’s cabin provided a comfortable warmth I hadn’t expected. 

My head reeled from a combination of fear, guilt, shame and confusion ignited by the past week’s interrogation. Numbness and tingling danced a pulsating rhythm between midriff and skull. 

My legs operated on autopilot, stumbling down the aisle in cadence with mechanical apologies to blurred faces and headless body shapes. I settled into my assigned seating and ratcheted the required belt—a safety feature that wouldn’t save a fly if the aircraft ride went south. I muttered a reply to my seatmate and stared out the portal. It occurred to me that my usual terror of airborne transportation was missing in action.

Was it possible to truly know anyone, even Self?

Luggage carts squatted just below me. Strangers in blue coveralls shoved them around arbitrarily. 

My seat partner nudged me and chuckled. “Makes you wonder if there’s any chance you’ll ever see your clothing again?” 

I grunted agreement with a courteous nod. My capacity for conversation, especially when it expected an endorsement, had maxed out two days earlier. It was possible I would never answer another question again.

The turn of my head to acknowledge his interruption set me up to witness the two of them pushing onto the jetliner together. Any plan to avoid eye contact dissipated like the smoke that  fabricated our conspiracy.

Lori Bennett faked a smile. Her partner, Jimmy Marshall, aka Jimmy the Kid, nodded with the gruff certainty of a man who doesn’t really know what else to do.

I tipped my chin to acknowledge his newfound maturity. Then I returned attention to my analysis of the ground crew’s loading procedures. Intrusive thoughts of our gang’s individual sacrifices crowded that line of thought to the edge of the Orient.

Who pays the highest price for those whispers between Air Force OSI Agent Logan Pasfield and Security Police Supervisor Master Sergeant Garth Higa in the seconds before Higa follows the Prefecture Police as they drag Lori Bennett away? Was it Lori, the victim of an injustice she could not right, who had to trust Higa, the man who shot her beloved nephew, a boy she’d bartered her soul to save? Or Higa, who gave up catching the bad guy and the justice it represented to avoid being busted for a bad shoot? Could it be Logan, who gave up his wife’s honor, his promise to uphold the law and with it his integrity as a law officer? Or maybe it was me, quick to agree with Logan’s rapid fire list of acceptable compromises before watching him climb into the ambulance and ride off with Jimmy and his EMT squad. Logan’s impromptu decision to blame his wife for the murder-suicide cost me an additional week on the island, deepening the wound. It also enflamed my wife with panicked suspicions about my explanation, since I’d given her little reason to believe the thinly sliced story I’d concocted because truth wasn’t acceptable over the phone.

A flight attendant touched my sleeve, her lips close and pupils expanding in a sea of Icelandic blue. 

Enthusiasm kindled to life at the exact point of the seatbelt’s restraint. A caldron of anticipation boiled higher, obscuring my resolve to avoid liaisons built on fanciful wet dreams unfettered by responsibility to the needs of persons absent from that fantasy world. The magical doorway to perdition.

As a broader view of humanity converged, I identified a man standing behind my dreamy lass. Familiar face. Expression of distrust. My appointed travel mate.

“Sir?” the blue-eyed angel asked me. “Are you all right?”

I straightened from the slumped position my body had acquired. “I’m fine.” 

The airframe shuddered and bumped. We were airborne.

“I’m sorry,” I offered. “Was I disturbing someone?”

“No, no,” she reassured me. “Your seatmate.” She gestured behind her. “He expressed concerns. Said you were agitated and talking strangely while you slept.” Her brilliant white teeth invited serenity. “We just want all of our passengers to have a pleasant flight.”

“Oh. Yes, of course.” The temperature of my cheeks flared. “Hope I didn’t stir a commotion.” 

“Certainly not.” She winked and moved back to address the complainant. 

I left them to it. 

Wispy clouds painted the horizon beyond my portal. 

A decision coalesced from the ethereal dichotomy that split murder conviction from familial desperation. Sometimes a crime’s resolution creates it’s own kind of steamy oppression, pretending to guard you by keeping you locked inside a swaddle of calculated inequity. Adulterers and murderers lived within this bubble together, uninspired and non-threatening. They held the truth in a blister of air, hoping no one pricked it—accidentally or otherwise. Five of us would carry this burden forever, a substantial lie designed to protect a cardinal truth. 

I harrumphed my growing cynicism. No more sleuthing for this cowboy. No more winks for wayward women. 

With a quick apology to the offended man next to me, minus the polite smile, I grabbed the flight magazine from the seat back in front of me and snapped it into submission.

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