My daughter had booked a cheap flight landing at City Airport rather than Detroit Metro and her departure from O’Hare had been delayed by snow. No E.T.A had appeared on the monitor for over an hour and my pacing was beginning to wear on the security force, a tired-looking man. In fact, the only high-tech item inside the ramshackle terminal was the TSA system. There were three vending machines— one for a now-defunct newspaper—and a TV monitor from the eighties. Two rows of empty plastic chairs connected back to back but mine was the only one occupied. No taxi stand, no porters, just an empty parking lot outside.
I picked up the day-old Free Press I’d managed to scrounge from the trashcan. A photo of Kwame Kilpatrick, now sporting an orange jumpsuit, occupied most of the front page. No snow in the forecast. The Lions were 2 and 11. An unknown assailant had murdered a woman waiting at a bus stop.
A plane landed—from Philadelphia according to the flashing monitor. As passengers deplaned, I felt the row of chairs lurch as someone sat down behind me.
“It’s me,” I heard her say.
One of those voices managing to be simultaneously loud and whispery. Was there anything more annoying than listening to someone speaking on a cell phone?
“She’ll be out cold on Ambien by now.” Pause. “Just go over and do it. Yes, now.” The woman’s voice grew a bit louder as another announcement about the delay at O’Hare came over the speakers. “Yank the cord. Look, we’ve been over this a million times.”
I felt rather than heard the woman put the phone away.
Two minutes passed. The ring tone was some song by Otis Reading.
“What?” the woman said. “Oh, for Christ’s sake. We agreed on tonight so I’d….” she lowered her voice and hissed, ‘so I’d be out of town. Two hours if the weather cooperates. Though maybe the weather’s not such a bad thing. Makes the timeline murkier.”
I stood and walked a few steps away, pretending to fiddle with the pop machine. I could still hear her. She’d given up any pretense of a whisper. I was one of those people who faded into the background, I guess.
“She can’t breath without that oxygen, you idiot. A few minutes tops.”
I could see the woman clearly now. Fortyish, wearing a jogging suit, greasy blonde hair. Throwing the phone into her purse, she walked into the restroom. People like her didn’t do things like this, did they? Plan murders, I mean.
Her hair was scraped back into a pony tail when she returned. I tried not to stare at her sweating face as she devoured a bag of Cheetos, a diet Faygo, red licorice. She spoke to the bored security guard at the entrance.
“Think the snow’ll let up.”
Was she setting up an alibi? She pointed to her watch, working on that timeline, giving him evidence should he be questioned later.
“Try a Little Tenderness,” that was it.
“She couldn’t be,” the woman hissed into the cell. “Did the paramedic tell you that?” Pause. “Then she must’ve done it herself.” …. “Maybe it was an accident.” …“ If she’d been dead yesterday, I’d have known before I left.” …. “No, no, of course, I didn’t check. Well, all’s well that ends well, right.”
She was pacing again, and I only heard the odd word or two when the woman drew closer in her circuit. “Don’t tell them anything. I’ll handle things….”
I strained to hear, sliding down the row seat by seat, getting closer. Then I stopped abruptly as the woman turned and thumped across the floor to retrieve her suitcase.
She looked me in the face—her eyes red, skin ashen. Straightening up, she put a hand on her hips saying, “Trying to pinch my bag, weren’t you?” Her eyes bore holes in mine. “I’ve been keeping an eye on you, you know. You’re not fooling me. I bet you’re here all the time waiting your chance. I’m on to you—even if that geezer by the door isn’t.”
She headed for the exit, her pony tail bouncing defiantly behind her.