|Itís June 10th, 2012. Outside the enormous windows of the International Terminal, rain falls heavily on Heathrow. In the glittering wetness, drenched men, wearing yellow suits, their faces protected by hoods, perform their tasks under the wings of airplanes that will soon begin lumbering down the runway; flashing lights twinkling their goodbyes.
My name is Frank Chapman; Iím married with a young son. This is not a new or exciting adventure, just another business trip, one of several I make each year; this one longer than most, so Iím anxious to get home, back to my family. If I look around itís the same thing, fellow travelers; most of whom concentrate their attention on electronic devices. But one, a young woman sitting just few feet away, is not looking anywhere but outside the window. She has sat motionless for several minutes, causing me to wonder if her eyes are actually closed behind those large sunglasses. Itís hard to guess her age with so little of her face visible, though slim, with good looking bare legs that end with red painted toes peeking from a pair of Jimmy Choo heels. Trust me, I know Chimmy Choo shoes when I see them. My wife, Danielle, would kill for a pair, and I spend an inordinate amount of time looking at them in Nordstromís.
My flight is scheduled to depart on time; 10.45 P.M. I check the departure board, no change. If Iím honest, my real focus of attention is still on this very beautiful young woman, and without staring, I look deeper into her demeanor wondering what sadness has befallen her. Iím wondering if I should do something quite out of character; offer a word, make an attempt at prompting some kind of conversation but now I hear my name being called over the lounge speaker system. Leaving my seat, I approach the desk. The attendant smiles, sheís wearing a close cut red jacket with the airlineís signature etched on its silver buttons, and a red and white scarf worn around the neck tucked inside a silk blouse. She tilts her head, a mannerism that invites my query.
ďMy name is Chapman; you called me over the speaker system.Ē
She looks quizzically at the screen in front of her.
ďAh, yes indeed. Today we will be upgrading you to our Upper Class section. Just give me a second and Iíll print a new boarding pass.Ē
Every year, for the last twelve years, I have flown directly between London and San Francisco at least three times a year, and this is the first time Iíve been offered a free upgrade.
For some reason I look round to where the young woman is sitting. She is no longer there.
ďHere you go, Mr. Chapman. Thereís still an hour before boarding; youíre welcome to take advantage of our Upper Class Lounge. Just show them your boarding pass.Ē
I take hold of the new ticket, tap it on the edge of the counter, and offer my thanks before realizing that Iíve stupidly left my briefcase back at the seat. I walk briskly, slightly panicked, to find it still sitting there, and with a sigh of relief sit down, pulling the briefcase onto my lap. What comes to mind is why I now sit here when I can be in the Upper Class Lounge, comfortable in plush red furniture, being waited upon, or having a pre-flight massage? My reasoning for not doing so is one of embarrassment; I had purchased a Premium Economy ticket, less than a thousand dollars at this time of year, and Iíll feel uncomfortable among people who have paid eight thousand for the same journey! Iíll be more than satisfied to enjoy a great airline seat, and have the luxury of flying across North America and the Atlantic with the ability to lie flat all night.
I feel a smug grin cross my face and quite unexpectedly smell a scent of perfume that begs me to look up. Ralph Laurenís ĎNotoriousí is wafting from where she is again sat. She looks fresher, revitalized, and unique; a beautiful woman. I have yet to see her without those dark glasses, but am convinced she is no older than thirty. If she turns her head now sheíll catch me staring, but sheís busy searching in her purse, changing her right leg over the left, leaving one red Jimmy Choo hanging off her toes. Iíve only seen that particular purse in the pages of glossy magazines, designed by Diane von Furstenberg, so I assume, rather whimsically, that this is clearly a woman with expensive tastes. Iím yet more intrigued as she removes a hanky from her purse, dabbing at her cheeks, pushing lightly under the rims of her dark glasses, and keeping the hanky in her hand as she snaps the purse closed, leaving it resting in her lap. Iím once again motivated to ask after her; is there anything I can do, something, anything rather than observe her upset and say nothing. Then I come to my senses. Iím older, a married man with a family. She is a younger woman, very beautiful, maybe an actress. What will she think? What can be wrong with a word of comfort? I debate with myself and say nothing.
Being stirred by the flight attendant with an offer of coffee and a cooked breakfast, I look at my watch; itís an hour before landing. The flight is already over. The section appears very quiet, fellow passengers still waking and not talkative, far different from the first hour after take-off. I enjoy my coffee in a china cup and eat breakfast off attractive crockery. The attendants appear very studious, asking several passengers to remain seated. I consider this odd, being the seatbelt light is not lit, but continue to enjoy my breakfast. The captain just came on to tell us that we will be landing soon. Thatís another odd thing; heís asking that we remain seated as the San Francisco Police Department will be boarding the aircraft after we reach the gate. Passengers will be delayed from leaving the aircraft for several minutes. I try looking back over the large seats to see what other passengers are doing. Theyíre seated and quiet. Something has clearly happened while Iíve been sleeping. The flight attendant is close by but I donít want to make myself a nuisance, so keep quiet, and just wait. The pilot now reports we are at the gate and that the SFPD are boarding the airplane. He asks for patience. Everyone will soon continue on their journey.
A police officer enters the Upper Class section, standing outside the cockpit, facing passengers. Heís succinct, informing us that an event has occurred during the flight. We will be asked to answer questions inside immigration services. He finishes as two paramedics follow in, stopping at row 12. A blanket is placed over seat 12 A. We are requested to get our inflight bags and follow the police officer. I rise up and pull my briefcase down from the overhead, being the last in line to leave the airplane. Passing the blanketed seat, I see a pair of Jimmy Choo heels jutting from under the blanket.
The interview should be short enough. Yes, I had seen her before boarding the flight. No, I did not know her. The next questions are more complex. Why had I not gone to the Upper Class Lounge when my ticket was upgraded? What was it about this woman that I noticed everything about her, down to the choice of purse and the style of shoe? I explain away these questions but am still left with the notion that the SFPD believe I know more than Iím telling. I simply told what I saw, what she was wearing, her demeanor, and why, being offered an upgrade, I hadnít left the economy lounge? The police finally tell me the woman in the Jimmy Choo shoes is dead, as if the blanket hadnít already told all. Was I a suspect? It certainly feels like the police want to know a lot more. The interview room is eight-by-six, white walls, a desk, and three chairs; two on one side of the desk, one behind the desk, hard up against a wall, offering me the clear notion that leaving voluntarily is probably not an option. I havenít yet contacted my wife to let her know what is happening.
Two officers explain that a woman has died when the drugs concealed within her body had burst open, being absorbed into the bloodstream, killing her. I shake my head, regretting I hadnít offered a word, anything that might have made her think twice. The door opens and another officer walks in. He explains that a small bag of heroine, the same as that found in the womanís bloodstream, has been found in my briefcase!
I slump back in the seat. It will be many hours, maybe days, before I will see my wife.