When Jessica, the flight attendant, reaches your side, her shrill scream stabs your ears.
The US Marshal steps out of the aisle and flashes his badge. The lines on his face deepen as he scans the tight space and the bloody body filling it. He closes the door and glances at you over his shoulder. “The others can’t see this. It’ll only make them panic.”
You nod. He’s not wrong. But how will he investigate and keep an eye on the rough looking woman in cuffs who occupies the seat next to his? “What do you need me to do?”
“Go sit with Mara while I check this out.” He stretches on a pair of latex gloves, turning to Jessica. “Miss, don’t let anyone back here.”
Tears glisten at the corners of her eyes, and one slips down her cheek as she nods.
You ease into the seat beside the handcuffed criminal.
She tosses you a tight smile. “You here to babysit?” Her Australian accent is unmistakable.
“I wouldn’t call it that.” You study her face more closely. Hadn’t a reporter friend of yours wrote an article about this woman? You tilt your head. “Mind if I ask what those are about?” You motion toward the cuffs.
Mara crosses her arms, slumping in the seat. “Just because I’m chained up doesn’t make me guilty.” She chews her lip. “I’ve got a trial coming up for first degree murder, and I killed the guy. But I had to.”
“Did he attack you?”
She sighed. “No. It was what they call a crime of passion on those court shows. I didn’t go into the place looking to kill. But when I saw– I couldn’t help myself.”
Talk about vague. You glance around the corner. When will that Marshal finish up?
“Say, what’s going on back there?” The male half of the honeymooning couple leans over the seat in front of you and lifts a brow. “Melani heard the flight attendant screaming, and asked me to check.”
You glance in the direction of their seats, and Melani peers over the top of hers with wide eyes. “I can’t say.”
The Marshal steps into the aisle and removes his gloves. He opened his mouth to speak, but his eyes cut to the man speaking to you, and he clamps it shut.
“Look. I’m Trey Hyatt.” The honeymooner jabs a thumb toward his wife. “We deserve to know what’s going on.”
By this time a small crowd has gathered. The onlookers nod and chatter in approval to Trey’s declaration of their rights. Devon and his mother stand near where you’re sitting. While his mom wears a look of concern, Devon yanks a little girl’s pigtail then glances away, face wreathed in artificial innocence.
The old cowboy steps into the throng, squashed between row K and a woman wearing a wide-brimmed sun hat.
The Marshal clears his throat and motions for silence. “Okay. Hush! I’ll tell you what I know. But remain calm.”
The droning voices dull, and the Marshal continues. “I’m US Marshal Ken Durland.” He glances at you. “Someone found a body in the restroom.”
A collective gasp rises, and the talking recommences with fresh gusto.
“Quiet!” The old cowboy raises his voice over the throng, sounding more commanding than you anticipated. With a name like Percival, shouldn’t he have a timid voice? “Let the Marshal finish. I, for one, would like to know what this means for those of us on the plane. We’ve got lots of hours left to spend together. Wouldn’t it be nice to know if one of us is a killer?”
A hush descended.
“Thank you.” Marshal Ken nodded. “What was your name?”
“You can call me Griz.” Okay, now that name makes sense.
The Marshal adjusts his shoulder holster. “I found an ID on the body. The victim’s name is Jeff Archer. That’s all I know at the moment.”
Turbulence rattles the airplane, and you grasp the arm rests, lifting silent prayers for safety.
“What are you going to do?” Devon’s mom scrubs a hand over her face.
“I’ll place a call to headquarters and see if they can dig up any information on Mr. Archer. That should give me some idea who we might be looking for, and –“
“Do you think the killer’s still on the plane?” Trey reaches for Melani’s hand.
Marshal Ken nods slowly. “His body’s still warm. He hasn’t been dead more than an hour.”
The woman in the sun hat lifts a hand to her mouth.
Melani breaks into sobs.
Devon’s mother casts a glance at the prisoner beside you. Not a fearful one. Then she hustles her boy back to their seats despite his protests about wanting to see grandma. That kid’s impatience might be the death of all the passengers.
“Thanks for keeping an eye on Mara.” Ken returns to his seat, and you step into the crowded aisle. He grabs the phone from the seat back and holds it to his ear.
Another jerk of the plane sends you barreling into the old cowboy. He grips your arms and sets you on your feet. Lightning flashes through the window.
Could this flight get any worse? First a dead body, now a storm.
As Marshal Ken rams the in-flight phone into the cradle, a low growl escapes his lips.
You meet his gaze, hoping your look asks ‘what’s wrong?’ instead of ‘is this how we all die?’
“The storm cut out the connection. Looks like we’ll be doing this the old fashioned way.”
A lump forms in your throat. “We?”
“Can’t do it on my own.” He rubs his hands over his pant legs. “I’ll have Griz keep an eye on Mara here. Then we can ask some questions.” He gestures for you to lean closer.
When you’re out of earshot of the milling flyers, he holds up a photograph, lined with wrinkles, as if it had been stored in a pocket for years. “I found this on him.” You study the picture. A young woman sits at a picnic table, her face toward the camera. She holds a little girl in her lap. Both are smiling. You run your thumb over the place where the woman’s eyes had been gouged out. Jagged edges of the glossy paper scrape your skin.
What could this mean? Why carry around a vandalized photo? You narrow your eyes. Something about the woman’s face strikes a familiar chord, but maybe you’re just imagining it.
You glance at the closed restroom door. Was the man inside the victim of a senseless killing, or did he carry sinister secrets of his own?
Clue #1 The photograph
Thank you for joining me for the second week of our ongoing Friday mystery! In case you didn’t notice, I used Penelope Kaye’s suggestion for Percival’s nickname, so I’ll be sending her a $10 Amazon gift card.
I’ve created a Character/Crime-Solving Word document for those of you wanting to take notes as the weeks progress. It would be a way to keep your suspicions and the clues organized. Also, there will be additional characters added in the coming weeks, so I will create supplements to add as we progress in the case.
Comment on every post while the mystery lasts, and you will be entered into a drawing for a $50 Amazon gift card.