I don’t sleep on planes. I watch movies. In fact, I don’t fly air- lines that don’t offer free movies. Watching films on my iPad just doesn’t do it for me. I’d rather sit back with a glass of wine and be entertained without worrying about my battery going dead. “Airplane mode” for me means I leave all electronic devices tucked away and turned off. Okay, it’s not like I’m a jetsetter and have my pick of flights and jumbo-jet myself from coast to coast all the time like George Clooney in Up in the Air when his job was to axe employees from companies all over the country. What a life. Good film, though.
Anyway, movies are important to me. I watch them religiously at home, with Bonkers, my cat, on my lap, and Mickey, my boyfriend, snuggled up next to me. On airplanes, movies allow me to forget that I’m 33,000 feet in the air. No one should have to think about that.
This time I was focused on the backseat screen on a night flight from JFK to Portland, Oregon. I was flying business! I never fly business. Mickey upgraded me. He’s rich, having inherited a not-so-small fortune from his parents. He thought I was crazy to fly at night, especially since I don’t sleep on planes. But it was either leave at eight-thirty in the morning, which would mean getting up at four-thirty in order to shower and make my hair presentable (would that I had Julia Roberts’ locks, but mine are more like Keanu Reeves’) and make it to JFK in time, or take the six-thirty p.m. flight, which landed me in Portland at ten.
Thanks to Mickey looking out for me, I got dinner, a wide seat with plenty of leg room (which is important for long-legged, big-footed me), and the relief of cinematic distraction.
Mickey drove me to the airport in his Mustang. We rarely use it in New York, where we live on Cornelia Street in the West Village. He keeps it garaged, except for special occasions. I told him I could take a cab. He told me to wear a scarf because he was going to put the top down.
There went my carefully blow-dried hair.
We had a good-bye kiss worthy of cinematic acclaim when he dropped me off in front of the Delta skycap counter. “You’ll call me when you land?”
“Give my best to the ’rents.”
“I will. Kiss me again, like it’s your last chance to kick the ball on second down.”
“You and your cockeyed sports metaphors. What does that even mean?”
But he lifted me off my feet while pressing his lips against mine, so I guess he figured it out.
A couple of hours later, I had finished my meal of overcooked pasta with tomato sauce, my first glass of cabernet sauvignon, and a too-sweet piece of lemon cake, while riveted to a scene toward the end of Begin Again. Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo had finished making their indy album on the streets of New York, and I could feel the magnetism between them. I didn’t know if they were going to kiss, or if they knew it wouldn’t work, and then they parted, and I was glad and sad at the same time.
That’s when the guy next to me, who had been sleeping soundly, suddenly woke up with a start, flailing his arm and knocking my second glass of wine off my tray table onto the front of my white sweater.
I ripped off my headphones and tried to jump up, but my seat belt was fastened and the tray table was not stowed since we were not about to land or take off, so I only managed a pitiful little seat jump, my arms up the air like I was about to be arrested.
“Oh, God, what a mess. I’m so sorry.” He fumbled around in his suit jacket. Maybe he thought he had a handkerchief or an extra sweater in there.
The wineglass rolled to the floor. “It’s okay,” I said, but it wasn’t okay at all. I looked like I was drenched in blood.
I headed to the teeny tiny airplane bathroom where a flight attendant met me and gave me a can of club soda. “Dump this on the wine. It will help.”
I closed the door and latched it, took off the sweater and pushed it into the miniature airplane bathroom sink—keeping the sleeves out—and started pouring. I watched it bubble for a while. Then I looked at myself in the mirror and remembered that I hadn’t thought I needed to wear a T-shirt or camisole or anything but my bra underneath. What was I thinking? Why did I decide that traveling in white was a good idea? Did I really still not know how to dress at thirty-three years old?
I rinsed the sweater, wrung the ever-loving crap out of it, and started patting it madly with paper towels. It was now damp all over with a pink splotch on its front that resembled a very large nose. I put it on and regarded myself again in the mirror. I looked like I had been nuzzled by a Siberian tiger, or Bessie the cow.
I tried to smooth down my hair, which had started sticking out in odd patterns, probably due to my headset, and tucked it behind my ping-pong-paddle ears (if ears had sizes, mine would be the same as my feet, ten), and made my way back to my seat. The flight attendants had cleaned up the mess, and my seatmate gave me a somewhat pitiful grimace as I approached.
“May I buy you another glass?”
I sat and fastened my seat belt. “Well, actually, the wine is free, so sure, knock yourself out.” I smiled at him.
He scrunched up his face. “How ’bout I buy you a new sweater?” “I don’t think they offer them in the duty-free magazine, but thanks for the offer.” I was being a little unkind, so I followed that with, “Really, don’t worry. It was an accident. I shouldn’t have worn white. Go back to sleep.” I gave him another smile and put my headset back on. I had missed the end of Begin Again.
I passed on another glass of wine offered by another flight attendant, and set about watching At Middleton, where Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga meet for a day at a college campus and fall in love and have to decide if they’ll bail on their disappointing lives or return to them. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it made me teary, while shivering in my damp sweater, so I was glad when the pilot’s voice came on the audio system and told us we’d be landing shortly.
# # #
Portland had become the new home base for my parents, Jeff and Sylvia Starkey, after violent events of last year had played out in their house in Palo Alto, California. Violent events brought on—through no fault of our own—by Mickey and me. They didn’t want to stay in that house any longer. So they sold it and bought a great little 1920s bungalow in the southeast section of Portland. I had been back once before to help with the move, but this would be my first visit since they were really settled.
I had moved to New York to live with Mickey a little over a year ago, when he was still an NYPD detective. He wanted to branch out on his own, and a few weeks ago we finally launched a new detective agency, Asta Investigations. I named it, I’m proud to say, after the dog in The Thin Man. It had taken us a while to get all the partnership paperwork in order and for Mickey to take the PI examination required by the state. Our friend Luis, a cop we met in Las Vegas, and his wife, Ruby, were planning on joining us, but so far they hadn’t. Mickey didn’t want them to make the big change until we had some solid jobs lined up. That would happen soon: Mickey was already on a missing-person case sent his way by a buddy from the NYPD.
As for me, I was in it for Mickey. I was head-over-heels in love with him, and once the new business got rolling, I would help out with research and dumpster diving. In anticipation of this lofty career, I got business cards made for all of us. Mine is printed with my name, Beatrice Annabelle Starkey, followed by “DDS.” That “S” is for “specialist.” Anyway, so far I had been spending my time enjoying New York and getting back in shape after a period of leisure, trying to regain my strength and confidence following the previously noted violent events. But it was time for me to get off the couch and find something productive to do. It was also time for me to visit my parents in their new home.
They met me at the airport, Mom waving her arms wildly as soon as she saw me walking into the general lobby area. “Honey! Here we are!” Dad stood beside her with his gentle grin expand- ing into a full-fledged beaming smile.
I wrapped my arms around them and kissed each of them. “I’m so glad to be here.”
“We’ve missed you, Bea,” said Dad.
“Damn, goddamn straight, we have,” added Mom, never one to mince words.
We took the escalator down to baggage claim. Dad said he’d bring the car around outside while Mom and I waited for my suitcase. I wrestled my arms out of my backpack and dropped it by my feet.
“What’s that?” Mom asked, pointing at the backpack. “Um, Mom, it’s the backpack you and Dad gave me…?” “No shit, honey. I mean that thing tied on it.”
I laughed. “Mickey gave me that, for good luck. It’s a sterling silver cricket, tied onto my zipper pull. Crickets stop chirping when danger is near. They’re protectors.”
“Darling, are you cold?”
I turned to Mom and opened my jacket. “Cold and damp.” “Holy shit, Annabelle, is that blood?” Mom leaned in for a closer look while I smiled sweetly at the couple standing next to us, who clearly had a no-swearing rule in their house.
“Chill, Mom! It’s wine. The guy next to me on the plane doused me.”
And suddenly he was right there, handing me some cash. Two bills, a twenty and a five, to be precise. “Hello. Please take this and buy yourself a new sweater.”
Okay, I’m no fashion queen, but this was cheap, I thought, for replacing my sweater, even though I bought it on sale at H&M. “No, honestly, it’s all right, I think I can save it with some more club soda.” That was the first time I really looked at him. He was only about five-foot nine or ten, just a few inches taller than me. A little chunky, but with a sweet face and thick white hair. Probably in his fifties. He was wearing an expensive tailored suit. I could tell, since Mickey was a snappy dresser himself.
Mr. Dapper was insistent, practically shoving the money at me while looking at my mother. “Loren Scranton. Nice to meet you.” He held out his other hand to her.
She shook it. “Mr. Scranton. I’m Sylvia Starkey and this is my daughter, Annabelle.” She nodded at me. “It’s very nice of you to pay for the sweater.”
I hesitated to take the money, but I did since he was pushing it at me and Mom seemed to think I should. “Thank you, really.”
“Do you live in Portland, Mr. Scranton?” asked Mom. “Please, call me Loren.”
They started chatting amiably about things that strangers chat amiably about. I didn’t stick around. I saw my suitcase heading out of the shoot and went to retrieve it.
When I got back to Mom, Scranton had left. “He doesn’t live here. He lives in New York. Nice guy. He felt awful about your sweater.”
I snorted. “Not that awful. I mean, twenty-five dollars?”
We started heading outside. “Well, darling, it’s not a very nice-looking sweater.”
“You should have seen it when it was all white.”
# # #
It was early November, and it was cold, in the thirties. There was a good chance of snow during the night. The rain already fell heavily. We rushed into the house from the car and stomped our feet on the welcome mat. Dusty, their golden retriever, wiggled like crazy while we all petted her. Dad took my backpack and suitcase upstairs while I dumped my coat on the bench by the front door.
“Tired, honey, or do you want a drink?” Mom was heading toward the kitchen.
“Both. How about a bourbon nightcap.”
She started pulling down the glasses and a lovely looking bottle I had never seen before. “What is that?”
“Angel’s Envy. Don’t you love the name? And the bottle? I bought it just for you. Couldn’t resist.”
She poured me one, and a glass of wine for herself, and a scotch for Dad. He came downstairs and we all sat in the living room, them on the couch, me on the recliner, and Dusty at Dad’s feet.
“So, how’s the new job going, Mom? And what are you up to anyway, Dad? The last we talked you were working a lot on the house?”
Dad sipped his drink and nodded. “Yes, and enjoying it, muffinhead.” Dad had always called me that, ever since I could remember, in spite of my protestations. “Painting, installing some bookshelves upstairs in our bedroom. Planning on redoing the downstairs bathroom next.”
“It’s enough? Being Mr. Handyman?” Dad was an astrophysi- cist and had taken a sabbatical from Stanford University, where he had taught for many years.
“You know, right now, it is. We’ll see how it goes.”
“Your father, Annabelle, is a genius. Well, we already knew that, but he can figure out how to build anything, for chrissakes! It’s amazing that I didn’t know this about you, darling!” Mom leaned over and gave Dad a kiss. He put his arm around her.
“And you, Mom?” Mom had left her job as an emergency-room doctor in California and had started working at a hospital just outside of Portland.
“I’m fine dear, still feeling my way…” “Sylvia, just tell her.” Dad gave her a squeeze. “Tell me what?! What’s wrong?!”
Mom took a big swig of wine and set her glass down. “I lost the job at the clinic. Only lasted six months.”
“Huh? How is that possible?”
She shook her head. “I swore at a patient.” “They fired you for swearing?”
Dad tilted his head toward me. “Well, it was more compli- cated than that.”
Mom sighed. “The patient was president of the hospital board. He’s a dickhead. He was in emergency because he thought he was dying, but he really just had the flu. I told him so, and he said he wanted all sorts of tests done, and I insisted they were unnecessary, and he said he didn’t care, he’d pay for them, and I said he should go home and rest instead, and he said that it was his decision, and that if I were a good doctor, I would do what he wanted, not to mention he was the president of the board, and I told him to go fuck himself, because I was busy.”
I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Oh, honey, it’s not very funny. I was called before the board the following week, and one by one, they pissed me off, and I’m afraid I told them all to go fuck themselves. And, here we are.” She rolled her eyes and swallowed some more wine.
Dad put his feet up on the ottoman. “She had a contract, that’s the thing, and we’re trying to decide what to do next. They can claim that Sylvia didn’t behave professionally, but I’m not sure this incident is grounds to fire her. On the other hand, she’s not sure she wants to work there after this, are you, honey?” Mom shook her head. “No, I’m considering other occupations. Like training cadaver dogs.”
I sat up straight. “Huh? You mean dogs that find dead people?” Mom laughed. “I saw a special on television about them. Pretty impressive. But I’m also considering opening a bakery, or running for mayor, or becoming a plumber.” She laughed again.
“I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, Bea.”
I stood up and went over to her and kissed the top of her head. “Well, I vote for the dogs. You’re a terrible cook, you couldn’t win an election with that potty mouth of yours, and I think plumbing pipes are a lot different from the human kind.”
Dad stood up, too. “Going to bed?”
“Yup, I’m whupped. See you in the morning.” I gulped the rest of my bourbon, coughed, hugged him, and headed upstairs. My parents’ guest room is one of the sweetest rooms in the whole world. The walls are painted a lovely butter-yellow, and the double bed is cushy, covered with a duvet that’s as warm as a hot bath and as light as a cloud. I knelt on the large hooked rug that covered most of the wide-plank wood floor and unzipped
my suitcase, pulling out my flannel PJs and my toiletry kit.
Then I reached for my backpack to pull out my contacts case and glasses.
The cricket wasn’t there.
“Damn,” I swore, thinking it must have fallen off when Mom was tossing it into the trunk.
I unzipped it and reached into the front compartment. And froze.
My hand closed around the metal handle of what felt like a gun.
I pulled it out to be certain.
I don’t know much about guns. In fact, I only know about two of them. Mickey has a Glock, and I have a Beretta Nano. Mickey had bought it for me about a month earlier. It’s pink. I know, a cutesy color. He picked it out as part of his effort to convince me to own a gun and learn how to use it. But I’m uneasy around guns. We never had one in our house while I was growing up, and I never knew anyone who had a gun—until I met Mickey. So my pink one was still in a box in our closet at home.
This gun in my hand wasn’t a Glock or a Nano. I dropped it on the bed and dug further into the backpack. It wasn’t mine.
It sure as hell looked like mine: Columbia logo, black.
But the only thing in it was the gun and a poufy jacket, which filled out the main compartment nicely.
What the hell?
Mom must have picked this up by mistake while I got my suitcase off the baggage claim carousel.
So, who owned this gun, and where was my backpack?
I sat on the edge of the bed, took a deep breath, and called Mickey.
“Hey! You okay?” he answered.
“Mickey. I have a gun in a backpack that isn’t mine.” “What are you talking about?”
So I told him, and he told me to call the police right away, and I did.
I left the gun and the backpack on the bed, went downstairs, and waited for the cops to show up.
My parents were going to be so sorry I came for a visit.