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! So you think they’ll find Sam on the plane?
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.
The fasten seat belt light flicks off with a hollow ding. You scrub a hand over your face then check the time on your iWatch. Only thirty-one hours until touch down in Sydney. Only thirty-one. The recycled air scratches your throat. Lovely. Good thing you brought Halls Fruit Breezers to take the edge off. You pop one in your mouth, and the creamy strawberry lozenge coats the aggravation.
Beside you, an old cowboy who had introduced himself as Percival Pettigrew when you first embarked slides his Stetson over his face and slumps into his seat, hands folded over his stomach. His fingertips are stained yellow, and cigarette smoke clings to him like a bad rash. Percival Pettigrew? Really? You chew the inside of your cheek. The name failed to fit the crusty cowboy persona. Why not give him a nickname? Duke? Nah, John Wayne will always be the Duke. Hmmm. Have to think about that one.
“What can I get you to drink?” The stewardess, Jessica, stops her cart beside you. Her dark hair swept up in a French twist.
“Just water.” You’ll save it until after the fruity throat disc works its magic, but if you don’t get something to drink now, who knows when she’ll make it back around to row G.
She opens a miniature water bottle and pours about an ounce into a plastic cup. Stingy much? You take the swallow of water and smile. It’s not her fault the airline insists on behaving as if we’re in the midst of a shortage.
Your seat lurches, sending water sloshing over the edges of your cup. After fitting it into the circular groove on your tray table, you peek around. A little boy rams his feet into your back again, his mother pats his leg, smiling. “Now, Devon, let’s find a new activity,” she says in a coddling voice. Precious Devon continues his assault against the seat and your final nerve. Too bad his mom doesn’t know that the word ‘parent’ it both a noun and a verb.
The plane jerks, and Jessica grips the back of your seat. Your heart climbs into your throat as you grip the arm rests until your knuckles turn white. Probably wasn’t your brightest idea to binge watch Lost before flying across the Pacific. But hey, if you crash on an island occupied by homicidal smoke, polar bears, and a group of toughs who want to use you for their crazy experiments, you’ll arrive prepared.
Old Percival snores on. His fingers twitch as the turbulence passes. You still can’t think of a nickname that suits. Probably the high altitude. Devon’s feet pummel your back again. That little shyster isn’t helping creative matters either.
A baby cries from somewhere behind you but quickly settles. You pull your iPad from its sleeve. Might as well get a little work done. The last installment of the Banter app expose won’t write itself. How many people will delete their Banter accounts when they read the truth about their privacy being compromised? You hit the power button, and your tablet screen glows to life. You shrug. Most people wouldn’t care enough to worry about the spying software attached to their profiles. Or the government entities that keep tabs on their online activity. No, they were too excited to show their friends pictures of their sandwiches and post vague woe-is-me sentences in a desperate attempt to fish for sympathy. Whatever gets them through the day. You can’t be faulted for withholding information that laid bare the sinister side of social media.
Once you reach Sydney, there will be no time to finish this article before starting coverage of the Cordova trial. You take a sip of water. How could one man be capable of so much evil. You love your job, but the nightmarish cases it forces you to dive into leave you wishing for the chance to write a feel-good piece. Something about the Make-a-Wish foundation or Chick-fil-A. Anything but corruption and murder.
You straighten your shoulders and set to work. That’s not what you’re known for.
Devon’s tap dance on your back continues. If you don’t get out of this chair in the next minute, you’ll find a way to punish the little delinquent yourself. Didn’t someone say it takes a village to raise a child? Well, you’ll be glad to join this kid’s village. Or give that Super Nanny a call. Where’s a naughty mat when you need one?
You slip out of your seat, tablet in hand. A quick trip to the restroom is in order. Maybe you can finish your article without being kicked like a soccer ball.
As you pass row H, you narrow your eyes at Devon, hoping he’ll get the hint and knock it off when you get back. Devon sticks his tongue out, and your hint sails directly over his curly head. His mom sits beside him, beep, bop, booping on her smartphone. Judging by the sound of the music, she’s playing Kwazy Cupcakes. At least her taste in games is solid even if her parenting style is what the French call ‘checked-out.’
You continue down the aisle, scanning the faces of your fellow passengers. There are the honeymooners you avoided eye contact with in the terminal. That got PG-13 a little too quick.
A man wearing a badge sits near the bathroom door. Beside him, sits a woman in handcuffs. Okay. Did you accidentally step into a Lost remake? No. This criminal looks nothing like Evangeline Lilly.
The green strip above the door handle reads ‘vacant.’ You pull open the door and a cold chill skims your arms. A man wearing a blood stained Red Cross t-shirt lays sprawled beside the sink. The gash across his throat turns your stomach.
You motion for the stewardess. But what can she do? Nothing can save this man. You fight the urge to scream. Somebody murdered him. You scan the backs of passengers heads.
Thank you so much for joining me on this whodunit adventure!!! Comment below to let me know what you think we should nickname our cowboy. Be sure to include your email address, because whoever picks the winning name will receive a $10 Amazon gift card.
Follow me for weekly clues that will point you to the killer one lucky ducky who follows the story to the end will receive a $50 Amazon gift card!