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 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 andMelani, 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?
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 🙂