I’d like to thank each person who has followed this moment to the end! You make storytelling so much fun. Now, to announce the winner of the $50 Amazon gift card.
Congratulations, Anne!!! You’re the winner! Thank you for participating!
I’d like to thank each person who has followed this moment to the end! You make storytelling so much fun. Now, to announce the winner of the $50 Amazon gift card.
Congratulations, Anne!!! You’re the winner! Thank you for participating!
This is the last installment of Murder at 30,000 Feet! Hard to believe ten weeks have flown by so quickly (pun completely intended.) Next week I’ll hold the drawing for the $50 Amazon Gift Card. Anyone who leaves a comment on all 10 posts will have a chance to win. 🙂
As the plane begins it’s descent, you grab the seat back to steady yourself. A hollow ding sounds over the speakers, and the ‘fasten seat belt’ light flickers on. You meet Mara’s gaze and her brows raise. She’ll never admit to anything. Durland–if that’s even his real name– doesn’t look too forthcoming either with the firm set to his jaw and the steely determination in his eyes.
Maybe Claire Wilson’s social media page wasn’t taken down after her death. Would there be pictures of Mara? Maybe even her brother, Sam? You open your Banter app and search Claire’s name. Bingo! The page is active.
You scroll past a series of posts left by friends and family who mourned her loss and reminisced over happy times they’d shared. Finally, the photos. You thumb through the gallery and stop. There’s Mara. Her arm draped around Claire’s shoulders as the pair stood in front of what looked like a view of the Rocky Mountains. Family vacation, perhaps?
In the next picture, a familiar face joins the pair. You look up and lock eyes with Mashal Durland, who, according to the photo tag, is Claire’s brother Sam Collison. He looks away. Even if Durland–or Collison, rather–tries to smooth-talk his way out of this predicament, he can’t explain away the fact that he is on the same plane with the corpse of the man who most likely murdered his sister.
“This wasn’t the way to handle it.” You lower your phone, shaking your head. “There are laws to–“
“They failed.” Sam runs splayed fingers through his hair. “That monster killed my sister, and got away with it. There was no justice.”
“But you murdered him, and that wasn’t the answer.” Maybe it felt like Jeff Archer had gotten everything he deserved. But murder was always wrong. Your ears pop as the lights lining the runway come into view through the oblong window to your left.
“It wasn’t me.” Sam shakes his head. “I’ll admit, I’ve been tracking him for months. And I knew he’d be on this flight. He’s been tailing Angie. I had to keep an eye on her. Make sure she didn’t end up like Claire. But I didn’t cut that monster’s throat. I was just as shocked to see that dead body as you were, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy about it.”
“Why impersonate an officer?” It doesn’t make sense.
“I’d have killed him. Planned to, but someone already finished the job.” He chews the inside of his lip. “The cop act would have been a cover. A way to get off the plane quickly.” He shrugs. “If I had a killer to return to Australia for extradition, they’d let me through, no questions asked.”
“Why should I believe you didn’t do it?”
“If you knew him like I do, you’d realize that I’m not the only one with a vendetta.”
You cut a glance at Mara, but she’s shaking her head. A smirk plays across her lips. Then she glances to something or someone behind you. You look over your shoulder.
Jessica is standing at the emergency exit, hand on the handle. The passengers who had occupied that row run to the back of the plane, shouting, fear lines their faces. Is she crazy? Opening the emergency exit with the plane still in motion could be dangerous, even if you aren’t at cruising altitude.
“Jessica, don’t. Running will only make things worse.” You take a step toward her. Probably not the best idea, but if someone doesn’t diffuse the situation, there might be consequences.
“He killed my sister.” Her knuckles whiten as she grips the handle. “He can’t get away with it. But I can’t spend the rest of my life in jail.” She swallows hard. “I need to help people. To do some good. And ridding the world of that evil man is just the first step.”
The wheels bounce off the runway. You grasp the seat back beside you. “Did you know he’d be on this flight?”
Jessica’s eyes dart to Sam and Mara. She squares her shoulders and yanks the handle. The emergency door flies open, and passengers’ screams punctuate the air. The sudden rush of humid air sucks at your clothing, pulling you toward the opening.
The flight attendant jumps onto the inflated slide and slips down. You cling to the seat, watching her descent. With the airplane still taxiing down the paved strip, the slide flails and pivots, sending Jessica flying through the air. She misses the safety of the cushion, and lands on the pavement. with a sickening thud.
How could she survive such a jarring fall?
The plane stops.
You run to the exit and peer outside, praying the scene won’t be as awful as you imagine. Maybe Jessica will brush herself off and run toward wherever to escape the consequences for her actions.
But her body lays in a mangled heap on the pavement. A dark stain spreads beneath her head. You look away, gut twisting.
Melani Hyatt screams then buries her face in her husband’s chest.
Angie Garrett hold her son close, facing him away from the grisly image that would probably scar his mind forever. Tears streak her cheeks.
Mara and Sam sit in their seats. Mouths agape and eyes glassy.
Griz bows his head. Perhaps honoring her with a moment of silence.
Flashing lights and wailing sirens drown the sobs in the fuselage. Medics rush toward Jessica’s form. One kneels beside her, places his hand on her neck, then shakes his head.
The pilot calls for the passengers to disembark. As if in a trance, the men an women pressing against the emergency exit scatter. Overhead bins click open and shut behind you, but you’re frozen in place.
Such a waste. It’s a blessing Jeff Archer can’t hurt anyone else, but you hate yourself for thinking so. You swallow past the dryness in your throat. Did Jessica really plan this alone? Sure she had motive, but it seems like too elaborate a plot for her to construct single-handed.
You turn, scanning the empty seats. Alone. They’re all gone. Back to their business as if nothing happened at all.
You grab your carry-on and walk the jetway into the airport. Men, women, and children bustle around you as if life hasn’t changed. As if Jessica didn’t jump to her death before your eyes. Somehow, everything feels surreal, like you’re floating through a dream.
Angela and Devon stand near the McDonald’s in the terminal. She has an arm draped around him as he licks at an ice cream cone. Griz stands beside her and rests a hand on her shoulder. Something between them feels familiar. How do they know each other? Mara and Sam join them, faces wreathed in smiles.
Sam glances your way. His grin widens, and he lifts his index finger to his lips.
Your heart plummets into your gut. Jessica didn’t act alone, but how can you ever hope to prove it?
I hadn’t planned on such an unsatisfying ending, so I hope you don’t black-ball me for it. As I was writing, the cut and dried ending I had planned just felt too much like cardboard. This is what came to me organically.
This has been a fun and challenging journey for me, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
Would you like to do another? Is there a particular setting you’d like to see? Drop your ideas below, and I’ll do my best to make them come alive!
As I mentioned above, I’ll draw for the $50 Amazon Gift Card winner next week and post it here. Thanks for keeping with me. I appreciate each on of you!
“I don’t have to explain anything.” The marshal crosses his arms and sinks into his seat beside Mara. “You’re looking for someone to blame. No matter what I say, you’re ready to believe I’m guilty.”
He’s right. Suspicion has clouded your vision. Best to keep looking for Sam Collison, since Archer implicated him. You pull out your phone. There must be some way to learn the identity of Sam Collison. After opening your Banter app, you type ‘Sam Collison’ into the search bar. Three pages of search results populate. How will you ever narrow that down?
An idea picks at your brain like buzzards on a fresh carcass. Claire Wilson and Jessica’s sister Tawny were married to the same man, now both are dead. There has to be a deeper connection there. It was too circumstantial these two women should be on the same plane.
You turn to the flight attendant. “Jessica. Was your sister’s husband ever charged with her murder? Did the case go to trial?”
“There was a bail hearing.” Her jaw hardened. “But the DA dropped the charges when he found out the evidence was obtained by unlawful seizure. Without being able to use the evidence against Rick, there was no chance at a conviction anyway.”
And Claire Wilson’s killer was still free, no evidence linked anyone to her crime scene. But Angie had witnessed an argument between her husband and Claire. How did that compute? What if the man who had been married to both Tawny and Claire was involved with Angie as well?
“Angie.” You glance over your shoulder. The dark-haired woman steps into the aisle and moves toward you, Devon close behind her. She meets Mara’s gaze, bites her lip, and looks at the floor. “What did your husband do for a living?”
“He was in sales.” Her answer is clipped.
“Did he travel for work?”
What are the odds all these domestic violence cases are tied to the man lying dead on the restroom floor? But the women tied to these abusive relationships were all married to men with different names. How could–
You scan the flight manifest until your gaze snags on the name ‘Jeff Archer.’ His seat is J3. When you find the his assigned seat number, you pop open the overhead bin. You pull out a black backpack. “Does this belong to anyone here?”
A teenage boy claims it.
Next, you drag out a gray duffel. When you ask who it belongs to, the passengers in row J shake their heads. You pull the zipper. Just a bunch of socks, a few pair of underwear, and–it can’t be. A stack of passports are shoved in and inside pocket. You flip through them. Some contain unfamiliar names, others names you recognize. But the photo is the same in each, and all the pictures match the face of the dead man in the bathroom. You stack the known names into a pile. Jeff Archer, Rick Brandt, Frank Wilson had to be Claire Wilson’s husband, and Roger Garrett must be Angie’s.
The victim had at least five identities besides these. Did each come with a different wife? A fresh story of abuse? Your skin crawls. As much harm as this man has caused, maybe he got what he deserved. The justice system clearly wasn’t adequate to stop his hidden lives, to protect the women and children he was hurting.
You pull out your phone to search the names you don’t recognize. With so much commonality among the passengers, surely there must be a way to narrow down the suspects. Jeff Archer–or whoever he was–had murdered Clair Wilson and Jessica Carmichael’s sister. He had beaten both Angie Garrett and her son. Mara had mentioned killing a man after something she’d witnessed him do. You meet the convicts gaze across the aisle. She lifts her chin and raises a brow. Didn’t all that happen before the flight? Why else would she be in shackles, awaiting trial in Australia?
Unless, it was all a lie. What if Durland wasn’t a real marshal? What if the law officer/criminal relationship between him and Mara was just a ruse to keep them from being implicated in Archer’s murder?
When you open your Safari tab, your last search for Claire Wilson comes up. Her obituary sits at the top of the list. You click it and scan the text for the names of her next of kin.
“…she is survived by her mother, Mara Lynch and her brother, Sam Collison.”
Clue #8 Jeff Archer has many identities. He was married to Claire Wilson, Jessica’s sister Tawny, and Angie Garrett.
Clue #9 The convict, Mara Lynch, is Claire Wilson’s mother.
Next week all the secrets will come to light. Who do you think killed the man in the airplane bathroom?
The marshal takes a step back. “What do you mean, I’m not on the manifest?” His brow furrows. Either there’s simple explanation, or he should get an Oscar for the innocent act he’s playing.
“Your name’s not listed.” You cut a glance at his prisoner, Mara, who keeps her eyes trained on the floor. “She is, but you’re not.” You scan the list once more. “The marshal who’s listed in the seat next to her is Toby Scott.”
Marshal Durland’s shoulders relax. He steps toward you, and you swallow the building lump in your throat. “Toby asked me to trade assignments with him at the last minute.”
But why wouldn’t they have updated the manifest? The weight in your gut says all is not well in Whoville.
“Let’s see your credentials.” Griz steps beside you, arms crossed. Thank goodness, you’re not the only one who finds this fishy as the day is long.
The marshal fumbles, then pulls out a leather wallet-looking thing. He lifts the flap. The ID looks legit enough, but as well-thought out as the murder appeared, you guess a good deal of planning went into it. If Marshal Durland–or whoever this person was–had set this scheme in motion days ago, he would’ve had time to get a phony badge made. Fourteen year-olds got fake IDs all the time, for crying out loud.
You glance at Griz. He seems level-headed, but his eyes narrow, mirroring your own suspicion. “Take a seat next to the convict, marshal.” Distrust drips from every word.
“What do you plan to do?” Durland brushes back his jacket, revealing a pistol in his shoulder holster.
The passengers let out a collective gasp.
“You threatenin’ me?” Griz takes a step forward, clearly unintimidated. The way that network of scars crisscrosses his face, he’s probably seen worse than an air marshal with a 9mm.
“Please don’t flash your weapon.” Jessica steps behind the marshal, using her most soothing flight attendant’s voice. “You’re frightening the passengers.
Durland lets his coat drop and conceal the hand gun. “I’m just doing my job. Don’t interfere.” The marshal stuffs his badge into this pocket. When he pulls his hand out, a scrap of paper flutters from his pocket to the floor. He quickly moves his foot to cover it, but Jessica beats hims to it.
She unfolds the paper, and her eyes widen.
You extend a hand, and she slips you the sheet. It’s a handwritten blueprint of the airport in LA. You tilt the map for Griz’s inspection.
The old cowboy puffs out a breath. “Looks like you’ve got a lot of explaining to do, Durland.”
Clue #7- Marshal Durland has a map of the LA airport.
Well, the end is in sight! Thank you all for sticking with me. If you haven’t had a chance, comment on the older Murder at 30,000 Feet posts to be entered in the $50 Amazon gift card drawling at the end of the mystery. 🙂
You step into the aisle with the marshal. He clears his throat. Passengers chatter back and forth, not seeming to notice that Durland has something to say. He raises a hand and tries again to command the crowd’s attention.
When you glance to your right at Mara who sits in wrist shackles beside Griz. The old cowboy catches your eye and raises his brows. You shrug. If the group won’t kill the noise for a law officer, no chance they’ll listen to you.
Griz stands, sticks two fingers in his mouth, and lets out a shrill whistle. The commotion dies. Marshal Durland casts a sheepish grin to Griz.
With all eyes on him, the marshal speaks. “Is there a Sam Collison here? We think he might have information on the crime and would like to speak with him. If he saw something, he could be a huge help.”
You bite your lip to mask a smile. Smooth move, Marshal. If Sam is looked at as a helper instead of a suspect, there would be less likelihood of panic, and he might be less on edge and more prone to come forward. You scan the faces in their seats. Heads shake. Passengers glance at one another with lowered brows. They seem genuinely confused. No one steps forward. Sam might be a really good actor. Or maybe he isn’t the killer at all. But what are the odds two people were out to kill the same man?
Jessica, the flight attendant steps up behind you and hands Griz a Dixie cup of something dark and fizzy.
You grip her arm. “Do you have access to the passenger manifest?”
“Sure.” She shrugs. “How else am I supposed to do my job?”
“Can I see it?” If Sam Collison is on this plane, you need to find him sooner rather than later.
“Give me a minute.” Jessica steps behind the curtain into her workspace. A minute later she returns and hands you a sheet.
A quick scan of the list yields no Sam Collison. Darting glances between the list and the people in their seats, you mentally check names off the list.
Everyone accounted for.
Someone’s missing. Your heart and stomach switch places.
You glance at Marshal Durland.
He raises a brow. “What’s that look for?”
“Your name’s not on the manifest.”
Clue #6- Marshal Durland isn’t listed on the passenger manifest.
Hmmm. What do you think that means? Does the marshal have a link to Jeff Archer?
You step into the restroom. The sight of the body on the floor turns your stomach. What could you possibly find that Marshal Durland didn’t notice. He’s the professional, after all.
The marshal hands you a pair of latex gloves, and you stretch them on. Carefully, so as not to contaminate the scene, you check the breast pocket of Archer’s suit coat. The gash on his neck has stained the material, but you shove that nasty detail into a mental box for later processing.
Nothing in the pocket. You check his pants. At first his pockets feel empty, but a folded slip of paper grazes your fingers. You pull it out and smooth the creases.
You scan the sheet. What on earth?
“It’s his will.” You glance up at the marshal then read Archer’s final wishes aloud.
“If you’re reading this, my lies have finally caught up with me, and he decided to hold me accountable. I’d like my assets to be divided evenly between my children. Their names and addresses are locked in the safe at my house in Bakersfield. Each of my wives can have the houses where they currently live.
All I ask of the person who finds my body is to have the police check into Sam Collison. He’s threatened me many times, and I wouldn’t put it past him to make good on his threats.”
Jeff had signed and dated at the bottom of the page. According to the date, he’d penned these requests just last week.
“Is there a passenger on the plane named Sam Collison?” You hand the document to the marshal.
A line forms between his brows. “Not sure. But we haven’t talked to everyone yet.”
“I think Sam’s the man we should be looking for.”
Clue #5 Jeff Archer’s will implicates Sam Collison.
Thank you all for joining me for week six! Do you think they’ll find Sam on the plane?
You and Marshal Durland step away from the woman in the sun hat. Why didn’t she consider taking the silly thing off when there wasn’t a sunbeam in sight and the brim kept whacking people in the face? It doesn’t make sense, but the way this trip is going, it’s par for the course.
“That got us nothing.” The marshal massages the back of his neck.
“Let’s talk to Trey and Melani.” You shrug. “Maybe they can shine a little light on the situation.”
You start toward the pair of lovebirds. Melani boops Trey on the nose, and he grabs her finger and kisses it.
Your stomach threatens to toss the hoagie you had in the airport terminal. This should be a real treat.
Marshal Durland rolls his shoulders until they pop. “Got a minute to answer some questions?”
“Sure.” Trey nods. “Anything we can do to help.”
“I don’t know how much help we can be.” Melani tilts her chin. “We were here in our seats the whole time.”
“Did you notice anyone head toward the back of the plane after the murdered man?” the marshal asks.
“We didn’t see anyone get up.” Trey glances at Melani. “Did we babe?”
If that were true, how did Jeff Archer get to the restroom unnoticed? You glance at the rows behind the couple. Both Jeff and the killer must have been sitting behind Trey and Melani.
The marshal presses on in his questioning, but your mind wanders.
What if Jessica had something to do with the killing? Something in your gut tells you that the flight attendant and Angie Garret are connected. Both women have ties to Claire Wilson from the photograph the victim carried. Both had a history with domestic violence of some form or other.
Jessica had access to the entire airplane. Had she been accounted for the whole trip up to the point of discovering Jeff Archer?
There were three rows of passengers left to question, then Mara and the cowboy. But Griz had been sitting next to you, sound asleep. And in those handcuffs, Mara couldn’t be stealthy if she tried. Not to mention the fact, she was under the marshal’s thumb until he dropped her off with the authorities in Sydney.
Was it possible Archer had been killed before boarding? Marshal Durland said the body was still warm when he investigated. How long did bodies stay warm?
You pull out your phone and enter the question in your Safari app. Hopefully, Homeland Security doesn’t flag you or put you on a list for such a suspicious question.
The answer appears on your screen. Twelve hours for a body to turn completely cool to the touch. And you’d been in the air two hours before finding him. Technically, he could have died hours before take-off. Your shoulders droop. But if that’s true, the killer could be long gone.
You mind replays the image of Jeff Archer’s body and the gash across his throat. It wouldn’t have taken long to cut and run. You cringe probably not the best terminology. Had Griz been in your row before you boarded? You think back. Yes. He was already seated when you stuffed your carry-on in the overhead bin.
Had he seen something?
Had he done something?
“Anything else?” Trey rubs his hands on his cargo shorts.
The marshals brows raise as he shakes his head. “That should be it.”
The couple ease into their seats, unbothered by the close quarters.
“You sure spaced out there for a minute.” The marshal slides his notebook back into his pocket.
“Did I miss anything important?”
“Not a blessed thing.” The marshal puffs out a sigh. “Get any bright ideas while you were out in la-la land?”
“You know, dead bodies don’t go cold for twelve hours. The murder may have happened before boarding. We should check the restroom again. See if the lock on the door was tampered with. Something. There has to be a clue we’re missing.”
“Worth a shot.” Marshal Durland unfastens the top button of his shirt. And you head for the back of the plane and the compartment housing Jeff Archer’s body.
Clue #3 If the murderer is on the airplane, he or she would be sitting behind Trey and Melani, but the time frame just got wider.
Thanks for sticking with me! Stay tuned for another installment next Friday!
“Well, that got us nowhere.” Marshal Ken cracks his neck.
“It couldn’t be Angie.” You shrug. “I was sitting in the row ahead of her since we boarded, and she never left her seat. Neither did Devon.” You have a knot in your lower back to prove that point.
Jessica, the flight attendant passes into the room housing the rolling refrigerators. The marshal clears his throat and cranes his neck in her direction.
“Do you have a minute to answer some questions, Miss?” He flips to a fresh page in his notebook.
Her brow puckers and her tongue skims her bottom lip. “What would you like to know?”
“Would you give me your full name, please?”
“Jessica Carmichael.” She taps her fingers against her navy skirt.
“How long have you worked for the airline?” The marshal scribbles something in his notebook. Does he notice her nervous body language, too? Of course, he does. He’s the professional, not you. Still, if he doesn’t mention it, you will.
“It would be five years in January.” Her voice softens.
“Would be?” Marshal Ken’s eyes narrow. “You plan on quitting?”
Jessica’s gaze shifts to the stained blue carpet. “This is my last flight.” She meets the marshal’s eye, then cuts a glance your way. “I’ve enjoyed this job.” She gestures to a window with her hand. Lightning rims the bruised clouds in the distance. “Who wouldn’t want to travel the world?” Her shoulders slump. “But what good am I doing here? So many women need my help, and me working on a flying tin can, handing sweaty people pretzels and peanuts isn’t what I should be doing.”
“So you want to help women?” You lift a brow. Such specific goals usually sprang from specific stressors.
Tears glitter in Jessica’s eyes. She blinks repeatedly, as if trying to erase a distressing memory along with the moisture. “My sister.” She shakes her head. A tear whispers down her cheek. “Tawny. She never told us what was happening.”
“What was happening?” The marshal lowers his notebook.
Jessica bites her lip and glances at the ceiling. “Her husband.” Her jaw hardens. “He’d convinced her she couldn’t do any better than him. But if she’d have married a catfish off the internet, he’d have treated her better.”
“What happened?” Funny that Jessica’s sister and Angie share similar story threads. But then, abuse is more prevalent than people like to think.
“You’ve seen Snapped.” Jessica straightens her shoulders. “I used to think those women who stayed with men that beat them and belittled them were crazy. I mean, why not leave when your husband can’t treat you like a human being? Only weak women stay when they know it can’t possibly get better, right?”
Marshal Ken tilts his head, mouth in a grim line.
“But Tawny, she wasn’t like that–not before. She was so strong. You should have seen her when–” Jessica sighs. “It doesn’t matter now. He changed her. But he wasn’t only mistreating her. Tawny found out he had a second family in Miami. He worked in sales and traveled a lot. It almost killed my sister when she found out that her husband had a wife and kids. ‘That other woman.’ That’s what Tawny called her. Until my sister found out that she was the other woman.”
You take a step closer to Jessica. “I couldn’t help but notice that you referred to your sister in the past tense. Did something happen to her?”
Jessica’s chin quivered. “She found out she was pregnant. She couldn’t bear the thought of bringing a child into such a messed up home. Planned to leave Rick–her husband. She didn’t make it out the front door. He killed her–and the baby. She wasn’t very far along, but still, it was a human life.”
You chew the inside of your cheek. What can you say? Nothing will make Jessica’s ache go away.
“My other sister and I are going to start a women’s shelter next month.” Jessica’s lips tremble. “We’re naming it after Tawny.” She pulls in a jagged breath. “No other woman should have to go through what my sister did. And on my watch, I’ll make sure they won’t.”
“That’s very admirable.” Such weak words, but they’re the best you’ve got.
“Where is your brother-in-law incarcerated?” Marshal Ken reaches into his pocket.
Jessica scoffs. “He’s not. Got off on a technicality. There’s been no justice for my sister.” She grinds the words through clenched teeth.
You catch the marshal’s eye. The look on the flight attendant’s face screams for revenge. Could the man in the restroom be tied somehow to her sister’s murder?
“Do you know a man named Jeff Archer?” Marshal Ken asks.
“Never heard of him.” Jessica lifts her chin.
The marshal extends the photograph of Claire Wilson for the flight attendant’s inspection. “Do you know this woman?”
Jessica shakes her head, not bothering a glance at the picture. She has to know something. Why act so cagey otherwise?
“Please, take a look.”
With a sigh, Jessica’s gaze falls on the photo. She purses her lips, recognition sparks in her eye. “I don’t know her name, but I know who she is. When Tawny thought her husband was cheating, she had a private investigator follow him. That’s Rick’s real wife.”
Thoughts churn through your brain. If the woman in the photo, Claire Wilson, was Rick’s wife, who was Jeff Archer, and how did he play into their story?
Clue #3- Claire Wilson was married to Jessica’s brother-in-law.
Thank you all so much for following the story another week! Let me know in the comments if you’d like the Word doc I created to keep the story straight. Who would you like to interview next? Any ideas on who the killer is, or how the passengers might be connected?
The Investigation Begins
You follow Marshal Ken Durland with your mind scattering a hundred directions. Who killed Jeff Archer. And why? As you pass each row, passengers turn to stare. When you walked to the restroom earlier, none of the faces looked anything but innocent–except maybe the prisoner and that degenerate little boy, Devon, sitting behind you. You rub the ache in your lower back.
The marshal stops and motions to a passenger, and Devon’s mother steps into the aisle. She grips Devon’s hand and the four of you find privacy with the rolling refrigerators in the crowded flight attendant’s space.
“We have to ask you a couple questions.” Durland pulls a notepad and pen from his pocket. “What’s your name, ma’am?”
“Angie Garrett.” Her gaze drops to the floor. Is that a touch of an Australian accent? Maybe she’s going home. If that’s the case, she can’t have anything to do with Jeff Archer’s murder. At least you’ll be able to trust someone on this airplane.
Devon starts making clicking noises with his tongue.
“Stop it! Things are bad enough without constant noise.” Angie rubs her temples.
His eyes grow wide, and the obnoxious sounds die in his throat. Had his mother ever spoken harshly to him?
“Mrs. Garrett. Where are you from?” Marshal Ken asks.
“It’s Miss Garrett.” Her jaw hardens and she swallows hard. “I’m originally from New Castle in Australia.”
“Were you in the US on vacation?” The marshal jots something in his notebook.
She shakes her head. Concern clouds her eyes. Devon grips her hand and nestles close to her. Maybe the little shyster has a sweet streak beneath all the aggravation.
“Why were you in Los Angeles?”
“I-I was married to an American. We lived in Bakersfield.” Angie wraps an arm around her son.
“So your trip to Australia is a vacation. Do you plan to visit family?”
Angie chews her upper lip. “We’re moving in with my parents-well, with my dad. Things didn’t turn out for us in America.”
You study Angie’s face. Though she’s young, stress lines her face. The shadows under her eyes tell a story that is far from pleasant. How did you not notice earlier? Had her husband abused her? It would hardly be a question you could ask with her son around. You glance at Devon. Had he been mistreated? Bruises pepper his arms. Were they the result of the normal wear and tear boys his age endured, or had his father–or would it have been his stepfather–inflicted them?
Despite the sore muscles in your back, your heart softens toward the boy. Yes, he’s still impossible, but who knows what the poor kid has been through.
“It was a rocky marriage, I take it.” The marshal leaned against a rolling refrigerator.
Angie nodded slowly. “We had to leave. We’ll be safe with Dad.” She glanced down at her son and smiled. “Isn’t that right, Dev?”
The boy nodded. “Yep. He’s gonna take me to see kangaroos!”
“Just a couple more things, then I’ll let you get back to your seat.” Marshal Durland slid what looked like the mangled photograph out of his pocket. “Do you know anyone by the name of Jeff Archer?”
Angie’s lips formed a line, and she raised her brows. “Never heard of him.”
“And do you recognize the woman in this picture?” He held it up.
Her eyes widened slightly, lightened by recognition.
“You know her, don’t you?” You lean forward. What was the connection between the two women?
“Not personally.” Angie’s brow puckered. “A few months ago, when I came home from Walmart, that woman was in my house. She was in a heated argument with my husband. I didn’t catch what they were fighting about. But Craig, my husband, sent her away. She was so angry. When she stomped out of the house she used some words I’d rather not repeat in front of Devon. And the way she looked at me.” Angie clasped a hand to her throat.
“Any idea what her name is?” the marshal asked.
“I only heard bits and pieces of the end of the fight, but my husband called her Claire.” She shrugged. “That’s all I heard.”
Claire. The name fit in your disjointed memory. You’d seen the woman before too. Maybe not in real life as Angie had, but in an article.
Claire . . . oh, what is her last name? Harris? No. It started with a W. Or did it? Sometimes when you’re certain about the first letter of a name, you find you were very wrong when the truth comes out.But W fits somehow. Williams? Wilton? Wilson?
You whip your phone from your pocket as Marshal Durland sends Angie and Devon back to their seats.
“You look like you’re onto something.” He takes a step closer and peers over your shoulder at your phone.
“The woman in the picture is Claire Wilson. I’m almost positive a friend of mine wrote an article about her. I just have to find it.” You type ‘Claire Wilson’ into a search engine, but there are too many results. Such a common name. So you add ‘Bakersfield’ to the criteria.
An obituary pops up along with a picture. Your mouth goes suddenly dry, and you consider grabbing a Coke out of one of these fridges. But you wanted a whole can, not a flight attendant’s tiny swallow. “Here she is.” You angle the phone so Durland can get a better look.
“She died last month.” He studies the screen. “It doesn’t give much information, and that’s never a good sign.”
You scroll down the list of search results, and an article with your friend’s name beside it snags your attention. Bingo! When you bring up the article, your stomach turns. Crime scene photos. Claire Wilson was murdered. And her killer is still at large.
Clue #2 The woman in the photo is Claire Wilson
Thank you for joining me for week three! If you’d like me to send you a Word doc listing the characters along with some of their information, let me know in the comments! Who would you and Marshal Durland like to interview next? I’m taking suggestions 🙂
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.