The Sound of The Setting Sun

The old man took a deep breath of the evening air. The sun had not quite set but the woods were beginning to come alive with night sounds. He sat near a small fire and looked out over the lake. He had driven up here, to the trailhead, and then hiked in 7 miles to this spot that he knew so well. He also knew it would be deserted; late October was not high tourist season in the North Woods. Not even hunters would hike in this far.

He was exhausted from the hike, but content and the only thing missing was Sam…he would have liked to have his dog here with him…especially now, but in the end he decided it would be best to leave him with Patti, she loved the dog and would know what to do. He was lucky to have Patti come into his life, at 23 years old it was strange that they got on so well, but she had taken a liking to him after he’d come in to pay his rent and made a point of checking on him almost every day. Even when she wasn’t working she would text him a funny picture or video the way young people like to do.

What really cinched it was the time he talked her into taking him skiing. It wasn’t that he couldn’t drive himself, he certainly could, but he knew if something happened his daughters would swoop in and take away his skis, his car, his freedom. For some reason, they thought he was hard of hearing…a misapprehension he used to his advantage. So he knew he needed to watch his step. They meant well, but their attempts to “protect” him meant losing his independence. Even Sam was a risk…he’d overheard one daughter saying something about a “rescue”. So what he needed was a wingman and Patti was up for the job. It took some talking, but after assuring her that he would stay on the green hills and throwing in gas money, lunch and dinner, and setting her up with a private ski lesson she agreed.

Everything went fine although he’d fibbed about the green hills, but as he explained some people can ski well into their 70s and even 80s. Once they arrived and Patti saw the large number of seniors on skis, she relaxed and went off for her lesson leaving him to do what he liked best; enjoying the peace and quiet of the snow covered trails and the occassional rush of doing something a little risky. Patti had refused to take any of his money even though her ski rentals and lesson had cost her a pretty penny. They had taken his car and he’d let her drive down but on the way home he drove…he wanted her to see he was fine driving alone, and in any event his daughters had insisted he upgrade his car to the lastest safety features which didn’t hurt any. During that three hour drive he’d come to regard her almost as a daughter…she had shared a lot with him and he began to understand that she was a special type of person. He loved his daughters beyond all measure but he understood that they had thier lives to live and so he felt fortunate to have someone like Patti in his life.

“Daddy, I don’t think you should be living alone”. That was Gracie, his youngest and the one he called Princess. She more than anyone knew that he would never be able to stand losing his own place. He kissed her on the cheek and promised her he would think about it. They both knew he was lying and Gracie wouldn’t push the issue but her older sister was another story. She had been checking out “nice places” and kept sending him brochures which he promised her he would read. “Would I get to keep my car?” “Now daddy…”. It all came to a head the day he fell, both girls freaked out a little and both came to town to take him to his doctor. He had to give permission but they came into the exam room with him. Finally, to get out of there, he’d agreed that he must have gotten a little light headed. They went home and the girls had the opinion from his own doctor that he should probably “be around people”. He explained about Patti looking in on him, but they objected saying “and what happens when she gets a new job?”

The irony of the situation was that he had actually tripped over Sam; no spring chicken himself, Sam was half blind and had taken to being underfoot all the time. If he had admitted that though, they may have taken Sam away. His sister called him; she never called with happy news. All she had to say was “how do you think your daughters would feel if they found you laying on the floor dead?” Thanks Phyllis. He said she was absolutely right and he would do something about it straight away. “Thank God I was able to talk some sense into you” she said before announcing that she had to go watch her favorite TV show.

Something his daughters did not know about was the followup call he’d gotten from his doctor’s office. His steadliy declining kidney function was reaching a critical stage. Telling his daughters would mean he had seen his last day of skiing, his last walk in the woods alone, his last drive to the ocean to watch the waves crash on the shore while he sipped beers from his cooler. He HAD confided in Patti, told her he wanted one last trip to the North Country, and she had given him a tent that she never used. His daughters wouldn’t like it and they would feel betrayed, well maybe Gracie would understand after awhile…she was her father’s daughter. Patti wouldn’t like it either, but she would immediately understand and that is why she was watching Sam.

He took the three notes, one for each daughter and one for Patti, put them in plastic bags and pinned them to the tent wall. They would find the car first so there was a note in the car pointing out his camping site. He told all three girls he loved them and asked Patti to take care of Sam, although he already knew she would. And then he thought about his late wife for a few minutes…would she understand? Of course she would; she knew who she married.

He watched as the sky turned orange, then red, then purple. He watched as the stars appeared and found Polaris, Orion and Ursa Major. There was no moon and that made him a little sad but he was able to make out Venus and Mars. He had carried in a can of beer and left it to chill in a nearby stream. He got up and grabbed the beer…it was perfect. He sat back down just outside the tent entrance, pulled the bottle from his pocket and without hesitation swallowed it’s contents, washing it down with the ice cold beer. Then he sat back and breathed the pine air and he could smell the Balsam and he could smell the Tamarack and he could smell the Jack Pine. He could hear a fish striking at a mosquito and his daughters crying in their cribs and he heard his wife saying she was waiting for him.

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved

JFK

It’d been a long flight from Russia and Peter was walking around like a zombie. He passed through the maze that was the old Pan Am terminal into another, even older terminal. After passing several waiting areas he found what he was looking for: a gate with no flights posted on the monitor, and not a soul in the waiting area. Sweet! He could catch a few winks undisturbed by nattering couples and unruly children. He plopped in a chair, put his feet on his briefcase and had almost shut his eyes when he saw something a few yards away. Shit. He wasn’t alone. He sulked as if someone had barged into his private property.

He opened his eyes a bit more; it was a flight attendant, but what was she doing on the floor? She had taken her boots off and was sitting with her feet curled up under her, reading a book. She had wavy dark hair pulled over one shoulder and he could see she was slim and by the look of her legs tall as well. She looked up. Damn! He had stared too long. On defense, he flashed her what had to be the nerdiest grin ever. She smiled back, and he mumbled “hi” and figured it was time to butt out and take his catnap. After all, she was after the same thing he was; peace and quiet.

“Where are you heading?” Well maybe she wanted to chat after all. “Dulles” he replied, “connecting from Moscow”. She nodded “that’s a long day. I just worked a flight from Paris, deadheading back to Atlanta now”. “So why are you sitting on the floor?” She laughed, “I’m working on my thesis and it’s the only way to keep all my crap organized, I’m Juliette by the way”. “Nice to meet you, I’m Peter. Is it Julie for short?” “Nope, I prefer Juliette.”

As it turned out she was working on a Masters Degree in French history for no reason other than she found it interesting. So she was a Francophile….that explained the Juliette thing. But at the moment she wasn’t particularly motivated after her overseas flight so they wound up getting a bite at a nearby restaurant. The conversation flowed easily as he too had an interest in history. They exchanged social media information and kept in touch over messenger. She documented her travels on Instagram and he always had to make a pithy comment on each picture.

A few months later she sent him a message “I snagged the Dulles to Paris roundtrip, I’ll have an overnight in D.C. Buy me dinner.” Dinner went great, not there was much doubt, they’d been messaging and occasionally calling each other ever since JFK. He wanted to see her when she returned from Paris. “When will you be back?” “Tuesday. I have a 3 day layover in Paris. Fun, but I’ll be on my own. Everyone else will want to shop and go clubbing. I just want to hit the museums and walk my feet off.” They agreed to meet when she came back through and he got a long hug when he dropped her at the crew hotel. But thinking on what she’d said about being alone in Paris he couldn’t help wondering was that a hint?

He walked through the main cabin door and couldn’t find her. Crap. What if her assignment had changed. It was a risk just showing up, but he wanted to surprise her. Guess he’d be the one alone in Paris. “I can’t believe you”. He spun around and saw a grinning Juliette in the entry to business class. “Well, couldn’t let you wander Paris alone could I”. She laughed “I’m a big girl”. “Well I thought you might like some company and well…I mean…are you mad?” He was stammering. “Cut it out, you’re right where you’re supposed to be. I practically beat you over the head hoping you’d ask me yesterday, but the surprise is nice”. She squeezed his hand ” now sir, you’re in 24B, please take your seat and I’ll attend to you later.”

He watched her walk up the aisle back to her business class passengers and was just starting to settle in when she showed up again. “Sir” he leered at her “yes ma’am”. “Good news. You’ve been upgraded. Please get your belongings and follow me”. As they moved into the premium cabin he noticed an empty seat next to a pretty blonde and headed for it. Juliet grabbed his arm and guided him towards a seat next to a young man wearing headphones. “Nice try bucko. You just sit right here where I can keep an eye on you.”

What followed for the next hour or so was a parade of flight attendants and even the Captain, slowly walking by, trying to look casual, checking him out. One crusty veteran looked him up and down, grunted and shook her head. Finally, the Captain plopped down in the seat across the aisle. “So you’re Jules’s boyfriend.” Boyfriend? What had she told them? Well, he had to admit, he didn’t mind the sound of it. The Captain was still talking, he looked him over. Right out of central casting, tall, Dutch, square jaw, “you have to forgive us, always there is a passenger who is after Juliette and always she is saying ‘no'”. So we are very curious about the passenger she said ‘yes’ to”. Peter laughed “well truth be told, it was more like I said yes to her.” The Captain laughed “be good to her”, and then he disappeared back to the flight deck. It was all very friendly, but there was the hint of a warning in the Captain’s tone.

Paris was a complete success. He’d assumed she’d bunk with her crew but she had other plans and so they wound up spending almost every minute of the three days together. By the time they’d boarded the flight back he told her he thought he was in love. She was noncommittal but when his entree was served about an hour into the flight it came with a note that sealed the deal. He thought “damn…and I wasn’t even going to speak to her”.

After they landed at Dulles she had to hustle back to Atlanta so she could get enough sleep before her next assignment. As promised, she texted that she’d gotten home alright and added an ‘I Love You’ lest he forget. He was already working out where they would meet next and texted her about his idea. But she didn’t answer that text. Or the next one, or the next…then he tried calling and her phone went to voice mail. He kept calling and leaving messages over the next 2 weeks until her mailbox was full. Was she ghosting him? She didn’t seem the type, she was direct, even blunt. She would have at least told him to knock it off. Something was very wrong.

And now be began to realize how little he knew about her. He knew her last name, where she worked, her mobile number, that she lived somewhere in Atlanta, and that she had parents in Michigan…or was it Minnesota? He decided to check with the airline and finally found a number for Human Resources. “Has she been to work and do you know what flight she was working last?” Dead end. “All we can do is confirm she works for us sir, the rest is confidential…” he didn’t give up, “I’m worried about her.” The HR clerk sighed “No offense sir, but we get lots of calls where someone is trying to track down one of our Flight Attendants”. End of call.

He tried a different tack. He had a friend who was a retired Captain…maybe he still knew someone that would be more helpful. He was right on it: “All I could find out is she hasn’t flown for over two weeks, scheduling can’t find her and and she’s been suspended”. “Have they tried to track her down?” His friend sensed the distress in his voice but couldn’t help from laughing, “It’s a big airline, people quit without notice all the time. Sorry bud, hope you find her.” He was disappointed but still it was a tiny bit more than he’d known previously. He was getting ready to hang up “oh I almost forgot…the Captain on her last flight…he’s not showed up for work either”. Peter whistled. “Well surely this will have them try to hunt them down.” “Not necessarily. They won’t do much more than you’ve already done. Look, I know you’re crazy about her, but a pilot going on a bender with a pretty flight attendant? Wouldn’t be the first time. Not the second or third time either.” Peter felt himself getting angry at his friend but held it together, “doesn’t seem like the type but I take your point. I do appreciate your help”. “No problem buddy, I hope you find her”.

Peter thought surely he was closing in on the smoking gun…it was just too much coincidence that the pilot had disappeared at the same time. He needed to find some more info on this guy. Having reached a dead end at the airline he decided to call in his best online stalker buddy. Actually, he and Lori had been on and off for years so maybe buddy wasn’t the right word but it wasn’t the wrong word either. Lori came down to his apartment with a couple bottles of wine figuring this was going to turn into a booty call. Seeing no chance of that she started in on the wine. After Peter finished telling the story she snorted and almost blew wine out her nose.

“Okay”, she began, “so you meet a beautiful woman in an airport waiting room and she asks you to buy her some dinner before her flight”. “She didn’t ask me to buy, I just did “. “Okay whatever. Then she maneuvers you into going to Paris with her…”. “Wait a minute that was my idea.” Lori rolled her eyes “you’re cute. Did she sleep with you?” Peter clearly looking for something to recover his dignity snapped “yes. And then some.” “Well, that’s a point in your favor.” Peter thought she was enjoying herself a bit too much at his expense. “Don’t you think we should be focusing on that pilot?” “Irrelevant.” She stated flatly. “If she lied to you do you even care about the pilot?” Peter had to admit she had a point. “Let’s focus on her. I want you to write down everything she told you about herself. Dig deep. Now get cracking.”

After about an hour Lori was on her 3rd glass of wine and Peter was done with the list and handed it over for review. She rolled her eyes again, “Seriously? She doesn’t like THAT?” He tried to look innocent “you said everything…”. “What the hell were you trying to do?” “Nothing, she just came out with it”. She gave him the side eye “you mean like on the airport shuttle?” He grabbed the wine bottle “that’s enough, you get jealous when you drink”. She grabbed it back. “You wish. Let’s get back to work”.

“Okay. You have circumstantial evidence that she lives in Atlanta.” “No that’s solid. I met her flight when she came to Dulles”. “She’s a flight attendant and that’s a hub. Easy to game that. Circumstantial.” She moved on, “She works for the airline that’s for sure. And I feel like she is from Michigan for sure.” He shook his head “that’s just what she said, I have no evidence.” She disagreed: “She told you she’s a Packers fan. Someone faking they’re from Michigan wouldn’t say the “Packers”. Peter had almost forgotten about her history studies “she’s a whiz at French history, so that checks out too.” Lori screwed up here face and stared at the laptop. “She claimed she had little internet access until she left for college.” A grin started to form “I know where’s she’s from”. Lori then proceeded to put together the puzzle for Peter. “She lives in Michigan but likes the Packers…” Peter noted that there were Packers fans everywhere. “Just stay with me hun. She loves snowmobiling and she said her college was too far away to go home very often right?” Peter nodded. “And where did she go to college?” Lori said this like she was a game show host leading up to the final answer “Detroit, will you just tell me if you know something for chrissakes?” “God don’t be so crabby. Alright groucho man, she’s from the Upper Peninsula! You don’t look impressed…why don’t you look impressed?” Peter sighed “do you have any idea how big the Upper Peninsula is? That’s like 300,000 people up there.” “311,000 to be precise. That’s why you have me and the Mac daddy here” she said, patting her laptop.

Lori was simultaneously searching online for clues and singing a song designed to annoy Peter. For his part, he pretended not to be annoyed, though he was, which only made her sing with increasing gusto. “I know what you’re up to and you can forget it.” She only pouted and drilled into some new discovery. “Ooooh oooh is this her????” Peter rushed to look over her shoulder. There was a photo of a grinning beaver on the screen.

It was way past sunrise and Peter had dozed off on the couch but woke to hear Lori talking excitedly to someone on the phone. When his eyes could focus he could see she wanted him to take the phone. “What???” She half whispered “it’s her mom! She wants to talk to you.” He started to put it on speaker and Lori waved him off, “I’m crashing. Fill me in later.” The call went on for over an hour with them each walking through their latest convos with Juliette sifting for clues. She assured Peter her daughter was not the type to just ghost someone. She’d not heard from her in a couple,of weeks but hadn’t been worried until now. They agreed that she would call the airline (as next of kin they would tell her more) and Peter would pursue other means. There was talk of calling the police but mom was going to try to reach a couple of her girlfriends first. He decided to get some more sleep and then he’d get Lori caught up. He went into his bedroom only to find Lori sprawled across his bed snoring loudly. He pushed her to one side and laid down next to her. He was out in a minute.

They slept late, but after brunch they were back on the phone with Juliette’s folks. Her dad had gotten home from a business trip and immediately called the police in the Atlanta suburb where Juliette had her apartment. He got on the line, “the police asked for your number but…”. Peter said “thanks but you have to call them back right now and give it to them”. “Will you keep looking for her?” Peter answered “With all due respect sir, I wouldn’t stop if you asked me to.” Her parents both thanked him and they agreed to speak again that evening. Lori looked over at him “NOW it’s time to find out about this Captain.

Peters’s interview with the police was thorough and tedious. He was impressed…they actually seemed to be looking for her. Unlike him, they were able to find out that she had indeed taken the flight from Dulles to Atlanta which both helped the case and proved that Peter had not been the last to see her. While that was going on Lori had been digging around trying to get more on Captain Bligh as she had taken to calling him. She’d had some success.

“Now who is this we are going to see?” They has flown to Minneapolis the night before and had met Lori’s Sorority sister for breakfast. She was driving them north of the city to meet Shelly, a woman she’d met doing a community theatre production. As she’d explained over breakfast, at one performance Shelly’s boyfriend had attended and went for drinks with the cast. He was hard to forget, tall and handsome. His name was Dirk, a Dutch guy. He was an airline pilot.

Shelly was distraught, Dirk texted or called her almost every night without fail unless he was working a flight. And then he always let her know when he’d arrived. “Do you think they ran off? Dirk and your girlfriend?” “I don’t think so Shelly”. Shelly was trying not to cry, “then where are they…?” “I wish I knew…”. Lori interrupted “you two getting upset isn’t going to find them. Shelly, thanks hun, don’t worry, we’re gonna find them you’ve given us tons of details. “Shelly nodded “thank you”. They left her with their contact numbers and what to say if Dirk or even Juliette were to contact her.

On the drive back to the twin cities they inventoried their findings. Lori was excited though Peter couldn’t see why. “Big deal, we got a list of his destinations and his phone number. The cops will have that by now too.”. Lori scoffed “do the cops have a record of what he did…” Peter interrupted “says he did”. “Jesus Peter, sooner or later you have to believe something or you’ll never get anywhere at all. Now the only thing we need to do is find all the other Shellys, this guy’s a player”. Peter was shaking his head “he’s a straight arrow. He never made a pass at Juliette or any of the other Flight Attendants”. Lori laughed “so what, ever hear the expression ‘don’t shit where you eat'”? Peter got a mischievous look on his face “Jesus Lori, sooner or later…”. She cut his sentence off and punctuated it with a hard punch in the arm.

They were going through their notes on Capt. Bligh when the phone rang. It was Juliette’s father, “someone from the airline called and wanted to talk about Juliette but insisted on speaking to you two”. “Why us” asked Peter? “I don’t know, though she said it wasn’t official and would only talk to Peter and that chick who’s helping him”. “That chick, nice” muttered Lori. “Honestly, she sounded scared”. Lori arched an eyebrow, “lose her job scared? “. “Worse scared.”Peter took the woman’s number and promised he’d call back after they’d spoken.

It took awhile to draw her out, she was frightened, but gradually they got her to open up. Turns out she’d been the purser on that trip to Paris and word leaked out that someone was looking for Juliette. It wasn’t hard to put 2 + 2 together, but she had no way of contacting him so she got hold of Juliette’s emergency contact info, reached her parents, and here they were. “Girls are going missing and the airline is saying it’s normal attrition but everyone knows something’s wrong.” Lori asked carefully, ” what makes everyone think that? ” The woman asked Peter if she thought Juliette was the type that would just scram, “definitely not”, ” well it’s the same pattern with the other girls, they work a Paris trip, deadhead back to their home city and then they go missing.” Lori pushed her: “who are the other girls?” The woman hesitated, “I can’t say. Look, I like Juliette so I want to help but please swear you won’t tell anyone we spoke.” Peter and Lori swore to it, “okay there’s one more thing. Captain Dirk is somehow mixed up in this.” After she hung up Peter protested “this is a red herring. Shelly said he’d never gone missing before so I’m not seeing what would be different this time”. Lori put her hand on his shoulder “Peter, it’s you. You’re what’s different”

They began debating the merits of which trail to go down next. It was beyond doubt that somehow this Dirk guy, Captain Anders to be precise, was up to his neck in it. On the other hand tracking down who the girls were might establish a pattern. Lori scrunched up her face, “I’m not even sure the cops know there’s more than one. Searching all over the country looking for missing women who happen to be flight attendants…Damnit!!!” “What? What are you thinking?” Lori grabbed her mobile and told SIRI to call Juliette’s Mom. Her father answered and told Lori she was too upset and he’d have to do. “No. Put her on, it’s important.” Lori covered the mic “I think I know who one of the other missing girls is”. Mom came on the phone. “Ma’am what did you tell me about Juliette’s roommate being on vacation?” Lori thanked her and without so much as glancing at Peter dialed the detective working the case on Juliette. She put it on speaker and Peter heard an annoyed voice come on the line. Lori didn’t give him time to get a word out “Yeah it’s me again, so when the fuck were you going to tell me her roommate was missing too?” Flustered, the detective blurted out “we don’t have time to deal with amateurs”. Bad choice of words. Lori was on him “what do you have on Anders?” “Person of interest, not a suspect at this time”. “Oh yeah? Did you know there are more than 2 missing flight attendants and they all flew to Paris right before they went missing?” The detective was trying not to sound excited “how did you find that out?” “Never mind. Look I know we are not ‘working together’ but we’ve got nothing else to do but work this. I will tell you everything I find out if you do the same, agreed?” She didn’t wait for his answer, “good”.

Peter was shaking his head “how did you know for sure it was her roommate?” Lori grabbed an apple “I didn’t. But I do now” She chomped on the apple. “Well you could have just asked”, Lori laughed, “that’s how you get men to talk. If you ask they’ll have time to come up with a story”. “And if it had been a woman?” “A woman would not have even heard the question, she would have torn my head off.” “Geez, I’m glad you’re on my side”. “I can’t believe I’m helping you find another woman”. He kissed her on the cheek “thank you”. She snorted “whatever, I think it’s time to check her social media again”, Peter groaned “We spent hours going through her instagram account and nothing. Just a bunch of her friends posing on beaches and in front of mirrors”. “True, but now we have someone to zone in on.” “Did the cops give you her name?” “Rhonda Turner. But she’s not in Juliette’s list of followers. Not surprising, probably using a made up name, so we are going to have to find her the hard way.”

After about an hour they’d collected and printed out five mirror selfies of Juliette that they determined must have been from her apartment. “What’s the point of this?” He asked. “Just do what I say. Go through the list of Juliette’s female followers and checkout their pics until you find something interesting. Try not to hurt yourself.” “Where the hell are you going?” She laughed “I’m free labor and your ex. Don’t push your luck. I’ll be right back.”

When she returned Peter was grinning “I found her! Username is RhondaFlys.” “Matched the wallpaper in the selfies didn’t you?” He looked crestfallen, “I thought I made that up…”. She patted him on the head “you did honey. I just made it up first.” She handed him a beer she’d gotten from down the street.”

As it turned out, Rhonda was a social media addict and her accounts on Instagram and Facebook yielded a bonanza of cat videos and selfies. Fortunately there were lots of pictures with Flight crew including Juliette and Anders and she consistently tagged everyone in her photos. Soon they had a wall full of index cards and yarn tying together all the relationships. They were starting to get punchy from lack of sleep so Lori headed for Peter’s bed to crash for awhile. He took a walk around the deserted streets to clear his head. When his head was clear it told him to get some sleep. Walking into his room he saw Lori was again taking up most of the bed but wasn’t yet asleep. He crawled in next to her but did not shove her aside this time. He whispered thank you, and she moved closer to him and then went out like a light.

Peter woke up to the smell of fresh coffee and the crackling of frying bacon. He threw on his robe and went to the kitchen. Lori motioned for him to sit down. Funny, he thought, during the time they were a couple she had never cooked once, yet here she was like Suzy Homemaker. “What’s gotten into you?” She wagged her finger at him “don’t be so suspicious, I went for a walk and got hungry, bacon, eggs, toast and orange juice sounded good.” He saluted her with his cup, “and coffee”. Lori just smiled. She filled a couple of plates and they sat in silence while they ate, thinking. As soon as Peter was done, Lori led him to her laptop and told him to sit down. She’d been up to more than walking and cooking while he was sleeping.

“So here is Anders on Rhonda’s list of followers and she follows him of course”. Peter nodded “that’s to be expected, but no connection between Anders and Juliette right?” “Right. But look here. I started going through El Creepo’s list of connections focusing on the flight attendants”. He was beginning to understand her methods; focus on the easy stuff first and you might catch a break. Lori had indeed caught a break but it wasn’t the kind of break either of them was expecting…or wanting.

Peter hung up the phone, the detective had been sympathetic, and even acknowledged they might be on to something but that; 1. Men looking at internet porn wasn’t illegal and; 2. there wasn’t enough of a lead to go on to start pulling in the type of resources they would need. Besides, he reminded them, they were far from exhausting their conventional leads and his captain would insist he follow those before going off on something speculative. He did promise however to call a friend at the FBI who specialized in this sort of thing. Neither of them thought it was speculative and Peter was still shaken by what Lori had shown him. If Lori’s theory was right, Juliette was in grave danger.

They called Juliette’s father and filled him in on progress but only told him she might be with Anders and that the police were reaching out to the FBI…all true but hardly the whole picture. They had both agreed that further frightening her parents wouldn’t do any good. Peter’s phone dinged with an incoming text from his retired captain friend. “Four, women same thing. No shows for work, suspended, couldn’t get names.” He texted back a “thank you” and put his head in his hands.

Peter was looking at the picture of Rhonda the flight attendant and then the other account that Lori had found. There was something familiar about the profile pic and then she realized that the redhead featured in the porn account looked a hell of a lot like the blonde Rhonda. She finally found a small scar on her neck and confirmed it. The rest was easy. She was able to track two of the followers from her legit account to two other porn accounts. These three women HAD to be the other missing flight attendants. And then Peter had realized something that made his blood run cold: none of their legit accounts had been touched in weeks…just like Juliette’s.

“We need to verify this and then we can get some help from the feds; ironically they’re the only ones who can verify our theory. Can we call Daniel? The one with the wife that went missing?” Daniel was a childhood friend of Peter’s and a detective with the local police force. He and his wife, Gretchen, had become locally famous when she’d mysteriously disappeared. Gretchen was a frumpy dresser but her mother, a PR professional knew how to keep the police on the case; she found the one glamour shot she had of her daughter and made sure it got in the local papers. The press went berserk and the cops were forced to keep the case as a top priority. Ironically, Gretchen had rescued herself with Daniel’s unwitting help, and the strange circumstances along with her good looks kept the story alive and they lived like minor celebrities.

They met over lunch at a posh suburban restaurant, all brass and Art Deco and waiters in white aprons, it felt like they had stepped back a century. Gretchen’s outfit was muted but there was no hiding who she was , and the other customers snuck glances in their direction. Daniel had indeed spoken to his fed friends who were able to confirm that all four women were indeed missing. Lori shook her head “what is Anders into?”. Gretchen tried to sound upbeat “there’s no porn account for Juliette yet, Anders Dutch passport has been revoked and border patrol is on the lookout for him”. “So they’re probably holed up somewhere in the country, which for now is a good thing” Daniel offered. Peter stared at his plate “what happens when they’re done with these girls?”. Gretchen laid it out straight: “everyone pictures cases like this happening in Eastern Europe or some place like that. Truth is these women could all be in New Jersey or someplace . They may be messed up but there’s a much better chance of finding them…”. Peter completed her sentence “Alive”.

They’d been back at his apartment throwing out theories but not accomplishing much. Peter got up and took a walk. He’d spent a grand total of 93 hours with this woman and had fallen hard…who was she? The local pizza joint was open so he stopped in and got a large pie…he wasn’t sure about Daniel and Gretchen but Lori loved pizza. He trotted up the stairs, reinvigorated and excited about the hot pizza. He threw open the door and said “pizza!” but no one budged. Not even a facial twitch. The one exception was Gretchen who just gave him a baleful look. “They’re not missing”.

Peter set the pizza down on the counter “you found her?” He’d said it like a man repeats news he thinks is too good to be true. He wasn’t wrong. Daniel walked over to him and put his hand on his shoulder “no, we didn’t find them. We just know they’re safe and not missing”. It was a lot to process, should he be happy? Sad? What? His mind did the only thing it could do, it evaded the obvious, hard question and went on a tangent “do her parents know yet?” Lori piped in “they knew it all along. They played along with us because the feds thought you were mixed up in it.”. It was too much and Peter just sat down and stared into space. Gretchen shooed Daniel away and sat down next to him. “I’m gone 45 minutes…”. “I know. It just all came together that fast”.

Gretchen started filling in the blanks. How Daniel’s buddy at the bureau had called and told him to back off. Daniel pressed his friend, and his luck, for Peter’s sake. All he got was “we have them and they’ve committed no crimes.” Daniel got nothing else out of his friend, well almost. He had a theory and he tested it. “Our friend wants to see the girl. They were lovers.” All the agent said was “he’ll never see her”. That told Daniel everything he needed to know. Gretchen tried to soothe Peter…she’s safe Peter. “I would have went with her, she could have at least asked”. Gretchen took his hand “if your places were switched, would you have done that to her? Asking her to make that choice? To never see her parents again? Her friends? Would you really have done that? Never see your parents again? Or Lori?”. Peter was shaking his head, I couldn’t have asked that. And no, my parents are dead but I don’t think I could have left Lori”. “It’s because she cared about you that she didn’t make you choose”.

Peter regained his composure. “So what happened? What were they into?” Daniel shook his head. “Hard to tell, but if I had to guess, Juliette had been targeted like the rest of these girls. Probably were going to befriend her in Paris…but then you showed up and you never left her side”. Peter was confused, “so the Feds are involved in a non-kidnapping?” “They must have made another try for her…but Anders is keeping an eye on her and got in the middle of it”. Gretchen took over from Daniel “So they go to the feds and the feds know these guys are really bad actors…”. Peter was nodding now “so Anders and Juliette can finger these guys”. “Probably”. So now the cross examination he’d gotten from Anders on the way to Paris made sense…he had been on high red alert.

It had been six months since he’d met Juliette and while he wasn’t over her, he’d come to accept reality. He walked into his apartment and Lori was on the couch working on her laptop, mooching his WiFi. It was okay, he liked having her around. There’d been a couple of near misses, but they’d kept it platonic; he wasn’t sure why, except that maybe she’d think he was just rebounding. He was going through the mail when one envelope caught his eye. It was handwritten. He opened it to find a smaller envelope inside. He did not recognize the handwriting but the writer was unmistakable: “Do you remember the two dogs we saw near La Place des Vosges “? Juliette was probably taking a crazy chance writing to him, even if she’d managed to conceal the true origin of the letter; which was postmarked Chicago. It went on and finally ended with an offer. She’d finagled a way that they could meet each other: would he like to see her? Instructions followed.

He went onto the balcony hoping the cold night air would focus his thinking. But what was there to think about; wasn’t this what he’d wanted? He looked through the window at Lori, she was oblivious, and she’d tell him to go if he asked her. He went back inside and sat next to her, she was typing an email so he said nothing, but he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “Where did that come from?” “I’m sorry, are you mad”? “No dumbass, just wondering why it took you so long.” She continued typing but moved closer to him. “Any interesting mail?” “Nothing important”

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved

The Big Whiff

I saw it coming before he did. It was just too obvious…too many beers, too much PBR apparel. I saw the blonde heading to the table between us and it was like the script was already written.

She seemed nice, at least she was patient you’d have to say.  His radar went off like a sailor in port on payday. He said something to her, admittedly it was kind of funny, I thought so and she did too, at least she laughed. A brief moment of triumph before the inevitable crash and burn.

That the PBR shirt and her Bogner apres ski clothes weren’t gonna mix well was apparent to everyone in the bar…well almost everyone.  He was in that beer fueled optimistic state that all guys experience. Unfortunately, there’s a delicate equilibrium of alcohol and stupidity and when one gets out of balance high comedy ensues. But for some reason she wasn’t shooting him down. That reason soon became apparent when three girlfriends arrived…she wanted to keep the quarry alive until the big guns showed up.

Now the women are giggling and taking potshots at the guy…he doubles down and orders another beer. I wanna tell the guy to stop, to preserve his dignity, but he’s beyond helping. I scope the women in the group, all of them attractive…the redhead especially so.

I lose interest and go back to my book. The bar was clearing out, you could feel it as the bodies left and the temperature dropped imperceptibly. The women were gone except the redhead, I could see her out of the corner of my eye. Then she got up to leave and I turned for a last look…and then I noticed her hand was trailing behind her, it was attached to another hand…that hand belonged to PBR guy.

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved

Prince Charmin

Reluctantly he grabbed the last 12 pack of toilet paper in the store. He lived alone and didn’t need much but he was down to half a roll and even for a single guy that was cutting it close. He didn’t need 12 but there was nothing else to be had.

Then he noticed the pretty blonde staring forlornly at the empty shelf and knew he’d be giving up his treasure. “Are you out?” She nodded and he turned over the package, “here, I’ve got plenty” he lied, “ you take this”. She protested but he insisted and then she said “I’d hug you but social distance and all…”. He laughed “just my luck”. She smiled and thanked him again and he went to look for a slice of pizza.

He finished checking out and headed to the car working out in his head how he could make the half roll last, and then he saw her again. She’d been waiting for him, and was holding 3 rolls of toilet paper she’d broken out of the package. “Take these…I don’t need 12 of them”. Grateful, he thanked her, and headed home, he was a little upset with himself for not talking to her more but then he didn’t want to turn kind gestures into awkwardness.

He kept thinking about her…she was cute, and kind. Those were two pretty good starting points. A few days later he was getting ready to use one of the rolls and be noticed a dark smudge, he unrolled it a little and there it was, writing as clear as day: “here’s my number, call me and tell me where you are right this minute.” And so he did, and then he knew she was funny too, and that’s all he needed to know.

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved

Escape Room

Everyone was whooping and hollering and backslapping. Even those in the group that didn’t want to play were in the spirit. They had made the escape with 20 minutes to spare, but more importantly, they had crushed the time turned in by legal by nearly 10 minutes. Now it was time for dinner and some beers.

Brad stood on a chair and got everyone’s attention, he was about to give the directions to the restaurant when Lisa asked “where’s Angela”?

Everyone looked around and started arguing. Some swore they’d seen her in the room, others were just as sure that she’d never been in the room. What everyone agreed on was that she had been in the lobby with the rest of the group. The prevailing theory was that she’d gone to the restroom and missed the start of the game and rather than wait she’d gone ahead to the restaurant.

Brad picked up his phone, and texted her “drinking at the bar already?”. Less than a minute later “I’m good. Had to leave. Gotta go. Bye.” “What the hell”, Lisa got out her own phone and called her. She listened for a minute and put the phone back in her purse. “Straight to voice mail”. The crew was getting restless. One of the guys spoke up “screw it, she’s got some drama, I’m thirsty, let’s go.” Everyone filed out.

Outside, as they walked past the adjacent building, a homeless man jumped up from a grate he’d been sleeping on, “listen! do you hear that!”. The group sped up, the men putting themselves between him and the women. “Listen, listen please!” But they were moving away briskly now and he plopped down on the grate dejectedly. A few other people came by and he implored them to stop but they too walked away. Why do they think I’m crazy…I’m an alcoholic, not a nut case.

Around midnight Kim came by. She was the beat cop for this area and always made a point to make sure her street people were okay. “How you doing Larry?” Larry ran over to her, “can you hear that?” She listened patiently and then said “I think you’ve been hearing voices again Larry”. She pulled a protein bar out of her pack and handed it to him, “try to get some sleep, the street cleaners will be through here early tomorrow”.

Larry watched Kim walk away. He admired her, she treated all the street people just the same as if they were the mayor. But she thinks I’m crazy. Maybe I am. If I were would I know it? He took her advice and curled up under the moldy old sleeping bag. But then there it was again, fainter now “please help me…”, then silence. She’s right, must be I’m crazy. And then he was asleep.

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved