Lynne Garrett's smile wavered as a member of the flight crew greeted her outside the doorway of the shiny metal jet.
"I'm Lisa, one of your flight attendants for this trip," she introduced herself. "Please give your ticket to Marcy, and she'll show you where to sit," Lisa added, pointing out a second flight crew member.
Lynne looked hesitantly at the plane once more before she entered. The image of a TV commercial advertising the airline flashed teasingly through her mind.
Inside, fingers of sunlight filtered through the plane's small windows and fanned across the seating area. Lynne walked, unevenly, down the narrow aisle toward Marcy.
"First flight?" the young woman, not much older than she, asked as Lynne surrendered her ticket folder.
Lynne nodded. And a solo one, she thought, as she sat down where Marcy indicated next to a window. From there, she could see her parents and younger sister, Amy, standing near the departure gate. Amy bounced up and down excitedly and a breeze puffed the skirt of her dress into a tiny parachute.
Suddenly Lynne felt very young herself, like a robin shoved from its nest--apprehensive of its freedom. As she moved her feet beneath the forward chair, she heard the now familiar squeak of her artificial leg as it adjusted against her thigh.
A slight welling of remorse turned in her stomach. She fought back the hard lump in her throat and the burning tears that threatened her eyes.
Through blurred eyes, Lynne watched Amy tug at their father's light jacket. She knew Amy was anxious to start the trip to Disneyland their parents had promised as soon as Lynne's plane departed.
"Disneyland!" Lynne had exclaimed when she and her mother had discussed the family's summer vacation plans. "That's for kids."
"Not really, Lynne," her mother had said patiently. "There'll be a lot of teenagers there, too. Besides, Amy starts kindergarten this fall and, well, we thought it would be a good experience for both of you."
Lynne had mulled over the idea. She really didn't want to mingle with a bunch of little kids and Mickey Mouse in the heat of Anaheim or walk all day long trying to keep up with Amy. To her a wheelchair was definitely out of the question!
Her mother had seemed to read her thoughts. "It wouldn't be all that bad, Lynne. We'll take three days to drive down, three to come back, spend a couple of days at Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm. Maybe we'll even go to the beach, you love the beach. We should be home in a week or ten days."
But Lynne had persisted. "No, thanks," she had said. "I'd rather do something else."
So, here she was, on her way to visit her Aunt Pat in the famed old Nevada mining town of Virginia City. She waved against the double surfaced window at her family before she tightened her seatbelt.
The plane's brakes held the plane to the runway against the force of its large engines, whose whine roared to a crescendo at takeoff.
The pilot released the brakes and the passenger jet climbed sharply, then circled slowly above the familiar streets and landmarks of her hometown. Even the television station atop Blanton Heights seemed to be wishing her a happy journey as the sun glinted a farewell from the station's expansive windows.
When the plane leveled off, Lisa, the older appearing of the two flight attendants, moved among the passengers, while Lynne unhooked her seatbelt and began to observe her fellow travelers.
The seat immediately next to her was vacant so she moved over, next to the aisle, to get a better look at a tiny baby whose asthmatic sniffling, as it fought for breath, piqued her senses.
Three seats in front of her an overweight middle-aged man divided his attention between watching four men play poker in the forward area and letting a dainty gold chain slither through the fingers of his right hand like a budding magician weaving a coin for practice. He concentrated on the dazzling bauble attached to the chain as it sparkled in the sunlight.
When he didn't look at the necklace in his hand, he shot quick nervous glances in her direction. Each time he looked her way, she became more and more uneasy. She couldn't help but feel, somehow, she was connected with his actions.
The prisms of light flashing from the pendant-type necklace drew Lynne's attention.
In the next instant, the color splashes were gone as the man dropped the piece of jewelry into his other hand and stood up.
Lynne noticed he was dressed like a grotesque model for a magazine's four-color fashion plate. He moved laboriously down the aisle toward her as if the effort sapped his energy. As he reached the seat in front of her, he steadied himself with his left hand and turned to scowl impatiently at the fussing infant.
The jewel-encrusted pendant, its chain entwined in his fingers, now dangled right in front of her! No larger than a small dinner ring, it flashed laser-like beams from tiny diamonds which surrounded a raised onyx scarab. Lynne had never seen anything like it! It held her attention intently as a chill raced down her spine.
The man took another step, and she felt the weight of his heavy palm slam down on the back of her own chair. She suppressed the urge to turn around toward him for another glimpse of the necklace. At last, he moved on.
Shortly, the man with the pendant came back toward his seat, carrying a plastic cup full of liquor. Lumbering slowly along, he had to edge around Lisa, who was sitting on her heels in the aisle helping with the baby. Just then, one of the card players jolted past both of them. The two men collided, splashing the drink across Lisa's uniform.
"Oh, I am sorry," the card player apologized as he caught his balance and clutched the other man's arm.
Lisa brushed quickly at her skirt, then turned to wipe the liquor beads from the fat man's coat.
"Let me rinse the spots with cold water, Mr. York," she offered.
The man called York grunted an indiscernible reply and waved her aside. He dropped into the seat the card player had vacated. There he gulped the remainder of his drink and stared sullenly out the window.
Lynne studied him curiously. An impatient man, she thought, turning quickly to avoid his checking gaze.
Another member of the flight crew, a stocky man with a pockmarked face, brought another drink forward. Lynne watched as he leaned over to whisper something in Mr. York's ear.
York turned, dropping one arm over the side of the chair. As his other hand grasped the offered tumbler, Lynne noticed that the beautiful piece of jewelry was gone. Where was the necklace? York must have put it in his pocket, she decided.
Lynne caught York's glance as he turned sideways to speak further with the flight attendant.
The flight attendant's squinted eyes seemed to search her out.
She wanted to cringe, to shrink even deeper into the soft upholstery of her chair.
The man nodded to York. "Don't worry, I'll find it," he said, his words barely reaching her ears as he turned toward her.
He dropped to his knees beside her chair and ran the palms of his hands over the carpeting. She heard him breathing heavily behind her and detected the slight scratching sound of his nylon jacket as he felt inside the storage pockets where in-flight magazines were kept.
Of course! When the card player jostled York, he must have dropped the necklace! Her eyes glanced down at the floor, searching the immediate area where the spilled drink's dampness still showed. Surely, anything that bright would be easy to find, she thought. She saw nothing.
The flight attendant moved back to York and shook his head as if apologizing.
The two men looked in her direction once more, and her heart made lurching motions inside her chest. She wished, desperately, that the plane would land soon so she could escape their strange behavior.
Her hair felt tight where it stuck to her perspiring neck. She ran her hand behind her head and, grasping the thick, long strands, lifted her hair to let it fall into a more comfortable position.
Why did she feel so threatened by the actions of York and the male flight attendant? She reasoned with herself, as the very air she breathed seemed to taste of danger.
Would her Aunt Pat be waiting at the airport in Reno? she puzzled. Otherwise, whom could she go to for help, if she needed it? The police? But what could she report? Only that there was a missing necklace and intimidating scrutiny by two sinister-appearing men.
Still, she could not quell the menacing feeling she sensed, and she sat throughout the remainder of the flight with her purse in her lap--ready to rush from the plane on touchdown.