(MYSTERY) – Samuel Price, Special Agent of the FBI, awakes while on his flight from Munich to New York, and something’s wrong. For one, the sleeping pills he took are causing him to see what’s not there. Then, there’s the fact that all the passengers around him are whispering about a murder on the plane. All he wants is to sleep, but he won’t. Will he rise to the occasion, or will his addled mind let a killer walk free?
“What? What is…” Samual Price trailed off as he looked around the airplane cabin, confused. He was awake now, he was sure of it, but what he saw and heard contrasted reality. The hum of the airplane, of whispering and murmuring voices, all seemed to be passing through a muffled speaker—muddy. The cabin was dark—as expected on a red-eye—but the small lights that lined the aisles, and those that illuminated seat belt signs above, signs for exits, and the status of the bathroom’s occupancy, all bled and crawled away from their sources like vines. Some even seemed to spark and flare like mini fireworks. Price closed and rubbed his eyes with his long, narrow fingers.
“Damn it,” he whispered, as there was no change to his experience. The oval cabin was now flexing like a heart beating—closing in and expanding once more. Three deep breaths, four seconds in, four seconds out—like he learned in the marines—and he felt in control again, although the world around him still did not cooperate. He could manage this, and the solution was quickly apparent. Go back to sleep, just like the sleeping pills he took clearly wanted him to do. First and last time I take one of these, he thought and closed his eyes.
Then, immediately, he opened them back up, returning to the Wonderland-like airplane cabin. He sat up straight in his seat, as alert as he could be, for it just occurred to him why he awoke in the first place. All around him, passengers whispered to each other, the whispers growing into low chatter among certain groups. Muddied as the sounds were to him, certain words pierced through the fog and rang clear.
“No, I heard murder.”
Price thought, his mind moving slower than usual, but he pushed it forward by sheer force of will. He could go back to sleep, as he just intended. It was a big plane, one of those two-level ones, and there was bound to be someone else who could handle the situation. But, that was his sleeping-pill-infused-self talking, and he knew it. That’s not who he was. If there’s a problem, there’s no one else to take care of it until he found it to be otherwise. Everything in him wanted to sit back down, to close his eyes and sleep, but he took three more deep breaths, four seconds in, four seconds out, and pulled himself up to stand in the aisle.
He was near the back of the plane, so he moved forward, where the whispering heads all turned and pointed. His body felt numb. I can manage this, he thought. Price hunched as he walked, an unconscious reaction to the walls and ceiling still pulsing in and out like he was inside the belly of some beast. The aisle lights clung to his legs like spider webs before dissipating for the next light to grab hold. I can manage this, he thought again.
The business class section was full of more chatter than coach, and again, Price followed the gazes and pointed fingers, moving toward the front of the aircraft. The talk here was louder, and Price could focus more directly on the individual voices and words.
“How could it be a murder?”
“Not exactly a smart place for that.”
“Crimes of passion…”
He opened the curtain at the end of business class and entered into a galley where the flight attendants would prepare meals and drinks for the passengers. It was empty. Then, he opened the next curtain and stepped into the first class cabin. All the lights were on. Price closed his eyes and turned away, shielding his face with his arm. Slowly, he adjusted his eyes and took in the scene.
There were eight seats in total, four seats on each side of a low divider in the middle of the cabin. On the right side, the aisle Price had entered, a man lay on the floor, on his back, clearly dead. A woman with red hair, pulled back into a neat bun, was kneeling over him. To his left was an empty seat, and next to that, in the seat on the other side of the divider, was a young teenager with his hood up. The teen leaned away from Price, large headphones around his neck. On Price’s right, a large man in slacks and a crisp, white button-down stared out the window ignoring everything around him. The two front seats, one by the window and one on the divider, were occupied by an elderly couple leaning into the aisle, their whispered conversation coming to an abrupt halt as their eyes met with Price’s. Standing in the aisle beyond them, back towards another curtain, and most likely the first-class bathroom area, was a flight attendant. The man was tall and lanky and stood as still as a statue.
Price pulled his badge from his jacket pocket and held it up to the passengers. “I… am Special Agent Samuel Price of the F.B.I. Ma’am,”—he gestured towards the red-haired woman beside the body—“step away from the body, and make your way back to your seat.”
“Ok,” she said, holding her hands up, “but… sir, don’t touch anything. I think he may have been poisoned—and it could have got into his system by something he touched.”
“Duly noted, Ms.…” he reached for her name.
“Doctor… Liza Sage.”
“Very good, Doctor. Thank you.”
Doctor Sage stood up and made her way passed the flight attendant, behind the curtains to the bathroom area, disappearing from sight for a moment, re-emerging on the other side of the divider to take her seat by the far window, across from the teenager.
“Excuse me… Mr.” Price called out to the flight attendant who shook himself to attention. “Come here, please, and be careful not to step on the body.” The man did so, stepping with an unnecessary degree of caution, moving in slow motion. Or was the slow-motion walk a visual trick, a product of his reaction to the sleeping pills? He couldn’t know for sure but decided it didn’t matter.
“Right,” Price said, looking the man straight in the eyes. Partly to make sure he had his attention, but also to make sure Price himself stayed focused with his hazy head. “What’s your name?”
“Rupert… sir. Rupert Ingle.”
“Where are the other flight attendants?”
“They… probably in the galley at the back of coach. I take care of First and Business Class, plus there are others on the first level of the plane as well.”
“Ok…” Price said, pausing, grasping at his thoughts, grasping at the mental list he had made that was slipping away. “Ok… I need you to call them, tell them what has happened but tell them to stay away. The less people around, the better.”
“Yes, Mr… Agent, Price.”
“Then,” Price continued, “I’m going to need a pair of rubber gloves, some sort of ziplock bags, and… after all that… the strongest cup of coffee you can make.”
Armed with a pair of rubber gloves and a pocket full of ziplock bags, Price got to work. The passengers looked on, easy for him to ignore, but did he want to? His thoughts were dancing around. He could usually form them into lists, into a well-reasoned order, a timeline of action. It wasn’t working, and he hated the lack of control. Price looked up, following the thoughts taking him away from the task at hand, from analyzing the body. The large man, who sat beside the empty seat, the victim’s seat, continued to stare out the window. He wore no headphones, so he wasn’t listening to anything to steal his attention. The man just stared, looking away.
Price made a mental note and then thought otherwise, making a note on his phone instead. Then, back to the task at hand. The body.
The victim was middle-aged, wearing a nice suit. No, Price thought after further inspection, it was a very nice suit. Probably custom tailored. Yet, there was a certain unkemptness about the man. His hair needed a good cut, days old stubble on his face, and his nails had remnants of dirt under them. They were working hands.
Price fished in the man’s jacket pockets where he found a passport. Linus Clark, it read. Brooklyn, NY. Folded neatly inside the passport was a receipt from the airline—an additional baggage fee to mark his bag for extra care and being overweight. His other jacket pocket held a packet of gum. Price moved on to Linus’s pants. A few spare coins in Euros and British Pounds, and a crumpled hotel receipt from somewhere in Munich, Germany—where their plane had left from. Price’s eyes widened. The hotel bill was nearly ten thousand dollars, paid in cash.
He noted and took pictures of everything with his phone to maintain proper crime-scene guidelines, but also because he knew that at any moment, his mind might take him on a journey away from his intended and planned course of action. He needed the documentation now.
Something caught Price’s eye—a small bottle and syringe at the foot of the victim’s empty seat. Price picked it up to investigate. The bottle was marked as insulin, and the syringe was empty. He was fairly certain there was blood on the tip of the syringe too. Not just an empty syringe, then. A used one.
He put the syringe and bottle in one of the ziplock bags and did the same with the rest of the possessions Linus had on him. Then, he took everything back into the galley, where Rupert, the flight attendant, waited. He helped Price store all the evidence in the small locker dedicated to Linus’s seat, a first-class perk, located right before the galley area. They found the locker unlocked, the door of it not properly shut. Inside was a laptop bag with the laptop inside.
“Ok,” Price said, turning to Rupert. “Coffee?”
“Yes, I have it ready,” Rupert said, disappearing into the galley for a moment, returning with a warm cup of coffee.
Price hesitated for a second before taking a sip. If Rupert killed Linus, he could be poisoning him right now. A stupid thing for him to do, really, and if Price died as a result, he’d still have caught the killer with his dying breath. He laughed softly to himself and drank. He didn’t sip it, but gulped it down, not looking up until it was all gone.
“Thank you, Mr. Ingle,” Price said, handing him the cup of coffee. “If you would, go grab yourself a pair of rubber gloves as well. I need your help to move Mr. Clark back into his seat.” Rupert raised his eyes and looked slightly queasy, but disappeared behind the curtain to do as Price asked. They put the seat into the sleeping position, basically a small bed, and then lifted Mr. Clark to lay flat. Price covered him with a blanket and then turned to Rupert. “Time for me to make a little announcement to the passengers.”
Price positioned himself by the curtained entrance to the bathroom, facing all the passengers.
“If I can have everyone’s attention.” He waited. “Yes, even you, sir, in the back.” The large man who had been window gazing turned an annoyed glare towards Price. “Thank you. This is a very unfortunate incident, and when we land in a couple hours, I assure you that you will not be able to simply go home.” The large man in the back scoffed loudly, and the old couple whispered to each other. “However,” Price continued and paused for the chatter to die down. “If I can get to the bottom of things here and now before we land, you can avoid that. If the culprit of this murder is caught, and I can hand over a clear suspect to the local authorities upon landing, the rest will most likely be able to go home right away.” No one said anything, so he continued. “First, I need everyone’s passport. I’ll come around to collect them.”
The old couple obliged quickly, and the large man handed his over reluctantly. Doctor Sage and the teenage boy, on the other side of the divider, had theirs ready when he made his way over. He then had to wake a sleeping couple sitting in the front two seats on that side, and they looked to understand as much as Price did when he first woke up. They handed over the passports and were back asleep in a manner of seconds. Resuming his position by the bathroom area entrance, a stack of passports in his hand, he again addressed the passengers.
“Ok, now I would like to talk to each of you—individually—to hear about what happened, and I think it best to start with you, Mr. Ingle.” The flight attendant nodded but looked nervous. Price gestured with his hand—“we can talk in the galley.”
He walked back down the aisle and, with the flight attendant, disappeared behind the curtains.
Special Agent Price sent a text to a colleague at the F.B.I. and a friend at the NYPD, as New York was their final destination. A simple explanation of the situation and a request for background information on the victim and all the passengers. Then, he turned towards Rupert, sitting on a small fold-down seat, looking up to Price.
“So, Mr. Ingle,” Price said. “Tell me your story. Where were you, what did you see or hear? And anything else that might be relevant to uncovering the truth here.”
“Right,” Rupert said. “I… I guess I should start… I was in here, in the galley when everything happened. So, I didn’t really see anything.”
“What did you experience?”
Rupert cleared his throat. “Well, we’ll be landing in a couple hours, so it will be time to start our descent soon. This means lights coming on for the whole plane, and time to serve coffee, tea, and breakfast. I was getting all that ready when I heard a commotion of some kind by the lockers over there.” Rupert pointed towards the curtain, towards the side of first-class where the victim sat—the lockers were just on the other side of it. He continued. “I stopped what I was doing and opened the curtain. Mr. Hartland, the umm… larger man by the window, was returning to his seat, and Mr. Clark collapsed into the aisle. Right on his face.”
Price frantically took notes on his phone. “Very good, Mr. Ingle, keep going.”
“The Doctor… Ms. Sage… she was returning to her seat, on the other side of the divider, when Mr. Clark collapsed. She saw him falling and went running back through the bathroom area and around the other side. She dropped to her knees in front of him, checked his pulse, and then tried flipping him over. I went and helped her turn him over, which is when we saw his mouth sort of foaming. I got out of the way, moved towards the bathrooms. Another few seconds of her inspecting the body, and she pulled back. Then, you came in.”
Silence hung in the air as Price caught up, typing everything into his phone.
“Very good, Mr. Ingle,” said Price. “Are there any other details you can think of, or anything suspicious that happened during the hours before?”
“Hmm… no… nothing.”
“Ok, then. If you don’t mind, I imagine our passengers could do with a round of drinks or at least some coffee themselves.”
“Very well,” Rupert said and disappeared through the curtain to begin taking requests.
Price sat down on the small, fold-down seat where Rupert had been sitting. He needed to collect his thoughts and give his body a break. His head was spinning, the plane walls and ceiling still pulsing around him.
A few things stood out to Price from Rupert’s story, and he made mental notes, forgetting about his phone. Doctor Sage was in the bathroom area with the victim for some amount of time… perhaps. He’d have to check on that. Was she back there with Mr. Clark, out of sight from the rest of the passengers? Or, was Linus already on his way back from the bathrooms, heading towards his locker, when Doctor Sage made her way to that area? Every investigation always began with more questions than answers.
The other detail he noted was that Rupert’s story was very well-spoken. It was detailed, precise, which didn’t match the man’s outward expressions of shock. Price would have expected him to be more rattled, but that wasn’t proof of anything. The shock could’ve worn off. It comes down to one simple question, he thought. What’s the motive?
When it came to opportunity, there was a lot of that going around. The sleeping couple were probably the only two he could immediately rule out as they wouldn’t have been able to get the syringe and bottle to the other side of first-class without anyone seeing. Price could let them sleep then. Yet, even the old couple, Mr. and Mrs. Kupp, could have done it. The syringe could be a distraction and not the source of poison, but unlikely. Only forensics could tell him for certain, though, which he didn’t have.
And then, why on the airplane? It was definitely a stupid place to commit a murder. Immediately throwing yourself into the suspect pool. The only chance the killer had was to point the finger at another. Or, hope I make a mistake here, he thought. It must have been a mistake… or crime of passion… Price’s eyes drooped shut.
Price was running down a long hallway, a crowd of people shouting from seats ten feet above him. The flight attendant, the doctor, the elderly couple, the large man, and the teenager all jeered at him. Price was searching, seeking what he needed at the end of the hall. Reaching for… he did not know what. Something pulled at him. A rope around the middle tugged him backward, and he fought against the force. He needed to reach the end. The end of the hallway was his salvation, and then he was falling. The rope pulling him with such force, he was airborne, flying.
Special Agent Price was on the floor, a slight pain in his side from falling off his seat. And then, it was like his mind needed to start all over again. The plane pulsed more quickly now, in pace with his heart. The lights dripped like raindrops, while others shot sparks. He’d fallen asleep for a few seconds, he guessed, as Rupert was still not back from taking drink orders.
“Can’t allow that to happen again,” Price said to himself, crawling and climbing his way back into the seat. He had to keep moving. “More coffee, and more action…” He took a deep breath, four seconds in, four seconds out. “Time for the next interview.”
Doctor Liza Sage replaced Rupert Ingle in the small, fold-down seat. Her red hair was pulled back into a neat and precise bun. She sat with her ankles crossed, hands folded in her lap.
“Tell me, Doctor Sage,” Price began, leaning against the counter, arms folded, “what made you think the victim, Mr. Clark, was poisoned?”
“That wasn’t my first thought,” she said. “When I saw him fall, I thought heart-attack.” Price gestured for her to continue. “I ran around, and he was already lying still on the floor—more reason to think heart-attack. I needed to turn him over. The flight attendant came over after a minute of me heaving the man. Mostly the tight space that made it difficult.”
“I see, and do you recall what any of the other passengers were doing during this time?”
“Not at all,” she said. “The rest of the world doesn’t exist in those moments, Agent Price. I’m sure you can relate.”
“Relate?” he questioned.
“Yes. I’m sure you’ve been in a number of high-pressure situations, and I’m sure the irrelevant details fall away in those moments for you as they do for me.”
“Ah, yes. Quite.” Price kicked himself internally. It was obvious what she had meant, and the connection should have been an easy one to make. Damn pills, he thought, and then focused harder. “Please, continue.”
“After we flipped him over, I saw him more clearly. There were a lot of details that ruled out a simple, natural heart attack. His skin color was way off—cherry red, and there was evidence of pulmonary edema—fluid in the lungs. That causes difficulty breathing, and Mr. Clark had coughed up blood, which was foamy as well. Yet, if he were having difficulty breathing, his skin should be pale, not red.”
“And this led you to poison?”
“Well, again, my first thought was different. I thought some sort of allergic reaction. But, I could see no other signs of that, especially with how severely it came on… plus that skin color. If it were allergies, the man wouldn’t turn red. He’d again become pale, or blue from lack of breath.”
“Do you have any guess as to what kind of poison it would be?”
“Yes, but we’d have to run tests to be certain.”
Price retrieved a pair of gloves and threw them to the doctor. Then, put on a pair himself. A minute later, he returned with the ziplock bag containing the syringe and bottle.
“I found this near the body,” he said. “Would you take a look and tell me if anything seems off?”
“Insulin…” she muttered to herself and then held up the syringe close to her eyes. Next, brought it, and then the bottle, to her nose. “Cyanide would be my final guess, Agent Price. You see here.” She held up the syringe, pointing towards the middle of the container. “You can see slight remnants where the syringe had been initially filled to.”
“Yes, I see it.”
“If this were insulin, that would be a deadly dose on its own. It’s way too much.”
“So, either way, this is our murder weapon.”
“It seems that way, but there’s a little more. Smell the syringe and the bottle. I could be imaging it, so a second opinion would be good.”
Price did as instructed and did smell something. “It’s sort of sweet, but I can’t pin-point it, almost like a liquor.”
“Very good. It’s almonds,” Doctor Sage said. “Cyanide often leaves a trace scent of almonds as that’s what it’s made from.”
Price’s phone buzzed—an email from his colleague at the F.B.I. Another one from his friend at the NYPD had been delivered earlier. When I fell asleep, he thought. He’ll read them after this interview.
“Doctor Sage,” Price said, looking back to her as he placed syringe and bottle back into the ziplock bag. “What else can you tell me about the timing of your movements. When you went to the bathroom? Where was Mr. Clark at that time? Other passengers?”
“Hmm… let me think… I’m honestly not sure where Mr. Clark was. At least I didn’t notice him. I can be a bit of a space cadet sometimes—when I’m off duty.” She smirked. “All I know for sure is that when I was returning from the restroom, Mr. Clark was collapsing to the ground. That other man, the one by the window…”
“Yes, he was taking his seat at that time as well. That’s really all I noticed. As soon as I saw Mr. Clark fall, I was back in the O.R… mentally.”
“Very good, Ms. Sage… sorry… Doctor. One last question. When did you change your hair color? Your passport shows you with brown hair, not red.”
Doctor Sage laughed. “Just last month, actually, for a sort of bet you can say.” She paused, grinning playfully, letting the unasked question hang in the air, locking eyes with Price. Then, leaning back, she explained. “A patient of mine. A young girl, Tamara. She was struggling post surgery and needed a pick-me-up. So, the nurses and I helped her dye her hair purple. Then, of course, she dared me to dye mine purple too. I compromised with becoming a redhead.”
“And how is Tamara now?”
“She made a full recovery.”
“Very good, Doctor. Thank you for your patience. You may return to your seat.”
She smiled, “Good luck, Agent Price.”
Price remained standing, leaning against the counter. Rupert returned to the galley.
“Sorry to bother you, Agent Price,” he said, “but I need to do a little service for the business class passengers.”
“Go about your business, Mr. Ingle.”
Price returned to his phone, full of new notes from Doctor Sage’s story of events, which seemed to fit into Mr. Ingle’s story perfectly. Yet, being the investigator he was, did not remove either from being suspects. Doctor Sage had a clear opportunity if their paths crossed in the restroom area, which was still unclear. Also, she would know and be able to get access to a bottle of insulin and syringe. More information is what he needed, and so he dove into the emails from his contacts.
One hand scrolled through the emails, while the other brought a steady stream of espresso to his lips—Rupert had given him control over the coffee machine.
Mr. Linus Clark was a cobbler in Brooklyn, NY. His tax returns showed a modest income, and he lived in a modest apartment. Middle class, at best. Yet, here he was flying first class, having just paid a near ten thousand dollar hotel bill in Germany. Cash, he thought. Clearly, Mr. Clark had some off-the-books income stream. A hefty income stream at that to afford such an extravagant trip.
The rest of the information was about the other passengers and their backgrounds. Todd Hartland was a wealthy oil tycoon. The elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Kupp, were retired, living off their savings and pensions. Doctor Sage was a well-known and accomplished surgeon in the Washington D.C. area. The teenager, Gabriel Mott, was the son of a wealthy family, on break from college. The flight attendant, Mr. Rupert Ingle, was just that, a flight attendant for the last twenty years.
“More in-for-ma-tion,” Price said, as he typed replies to both contacts. What was Linus Clark’s off-the-books income from? Drugs? Weapons? Something else? What were the full travel itineraries of all these passengers? “More in-for-ma-tion,” Price said again as he typed the words and hit send.
The interview with the teenager, Gabriel Mott, added nothing of value to Price’s notes. There was nothing he saw or heard, as his noise-canceling headphones did their job well, and the movie he was watching captured the rest of his attention. Price tried pressing him for more details, but nothing came out of his mouth except, “Sorry, sir, I don’t know.” So, he moved on to Mr. Todd Hartland, offering him the small, fold-down seat.
“I’ll stand,” said Todd, folding his arms across his chest.
“Fine with me, Mr. Hartland,” said Price, taking another sip of coffee. “Let’s get right into it then. Can you tell me what you saw?”
“I saw the guy fall over—that’s it.”
“And what did you think when that happened?”
“I thought he was a drunken idiot, is what I thought. The guy got his fill from the bar, for sure. One drink after another.”
“Is that why you had an argument with Mr. Clark right before he died?” Price observed Todd’s face intently, looking for signs of worry or concern, but of course, at that moment, Todd’s face contorted into something unrealistic. Unbelievable, Price thought. He blinked and rubbed his eyes, disguising the action by pacing the galley, turning away from Todd for that crucial moment.
“In a way, yea,” said Todd. “The drunken fool was trying to get into my locker. I heard him fumbling around, it was distracting, so I got up to see, and there he was messing with my lock.”
Price turned back to Todd and gestured for him to continue with a nod of his head, ignoring the fact that Todd’s face was moving around like it was made of gas.
“I didn’t kill ’im for it if that’s what you’re wondering. I gave ‘im a slap on the shoulder and pointed him to his own locker.”
“What did Mr. Clark say?”
“Nothing. No ‘sorry,’ barely a thought to me being there. Just went on trying to open his locker. So, I just went back to my seat, but before I sat down, he comes bumping into me again and then collapses. Drunken fool. I took my seat to get back to what I was doing, and let the good samaritans nurse him.”
“He wasn’t drunk, though, or at least that’s not what killed him.”
“If the doc couldn’t save him, then what was I gonna do?”
“Mr. Hartland, an odd question for you, but would you happen to be diabetic?”
“Are you a diabetic? Do you take insulin?”
“Why do you ask? Was he killed by insulin or something? Probably, and so you naturally assume the big guy did it?”
Price took a deep breath to calm the situation down. “I make no assumptions about anything during an investigation, Mr. Hartland. It’s just a question.”
Todd paused, squeezing his arms tighter across his chest. “Yea, fine, I take insulin. Took my last shot before the flight.”
“Would you mind showing me your insulin pack? I’m sure it’s with your carry on items just in case.”
“I mind,” Todd said forcefully, but before Price could interject, Todd continued. “But… I’ll show you if it helps you to leave me alone.”
Price followed Todd over to the four lockers and watched as he unlocked his, fumbled through his bag, and pulled out a small black case. Price opened it to see two syringes and two bottles. They looked exactly like what he found on the floor, but he wasn’t too surprised about that. That would have been the killer’s idea. Make it look like insulin. Price gave him back his case, and he packed it away again.
“Thank you, Mr. Hartland,” Price said, gesturing for Todd to join him back in the galley. Back behind the curtain, Price continued. “Just a few more questions, and we’ll be done here. Then, you can get back to doing what you were doing before… which was what exactly?”
“I was planning my week, my month, making lists for employees.”
“Huh… from what I saw, you were just staring out the window. How were you making lists?”
Todd pointed violently to his head. “I don’t need a notepad. It’s all in here.”
“Impressive. Could you share one of the lists you made?”
Todd rolled his eyes. “I don’t think I will, no. I’ve been more than generous with this… inquisition than I think necessary already. Those lists are my business, for my business, and none of yours.”
Price nodded and turned away, checking the notes on his phone.
“Last question, Mr. Hartland. Do you know where the other passengers were at around the time Mr. Clark died, and even right before it?”
“My gaze was out the window, but I can tell you the flight attendant was back here. I heard him tinkering away when I came to the lockers to tell Mr. Clark to keep his hands off what’s not his. Can I go now?”
Price let the silence hang in the air for a moment before responding. “Yes, please return to your seat.”
Before Price finished his sentence, Todd was walking passed him, then disappeared beyond the curtain, leaving him alone with his thoughts yet again. He checked his phone, and there were two more emails from his contacts with some extra information.
The victim, Linus Clark, had no known affiliations or connections with the mob, with drug cartels, local gangs, or anything like that. That made explaining his extravagant expenditures a little more challenging. Drugs, weapons, and those things were usually associated with some gang or cartel. He had some other ideas and typed them into his phone.
Next was Mr. Clark’s itinerary, as well as any cross-overs with the other passengers. He traveled from New York to London and seemed to spend a week there, which they could only determine based on his next airline ticket from London to Germany. His financial statements showed no withdrawals during the two-week trip. All cash, Price thought. That’s a lot of money to carry. More evidence that the money wasn’t legally earned.
The email also showed that three other passengers had the exact same itinerary as Mr. Clark. First was Doctor Liza Sage, although she hadn’t flown First Class until this last leg of her trip home. Then, there was the elderly couple, Mr. & Mrs. Kupp. The two of them and Mr. Clark had now flown on three of the same flights, all in first class. From New York to London, London to Munich, and now Munich back to New York.
“Well, that’s one hell of a coincidence.” Price checked the time on his phone. There were about 30 minutes until they began their descent. “Time for the last interview,” he muttered to himself.
The plane walls were no longer pulsing as they had an hour ago. The effects of the sleeping pills, and whatever reaction he had to them, were starting to wear off. Yet, not entirely as his body and mind still felt like they were moving through molasses. Hindered, but at least he was moving forward.
Mr. Charlie Kupp gave his wife, Tara, the small fold-down seat in the galley area and stood with a caressing hand on her shoulder. Despite the situation, the two of them were smiling. Rupert, the flight attendant, just left the galley with a full cart to take care of any final desires for drinks and snacks.
“Thank you for agreeing to answer some questions,” Agent Price said.
“No bother,” said Tara. “Happy to help in any way we can.”
“Agreed,” said Charlie.
“Just start from the top, if you will. What can you tell me of Mr. Clark’s activity before the murder?”
The two of them glanced at each other, silently communicating, as if through telepathy, and then Tara began. “We’ve been trying to remember ourselves, you see. But, we disagree on some things and agree on others.”
“Why don’t you tell me what you remember, Mrs. Kupp, and when you have a different recollection”—he gestured to Mr. Kupp—“jump in and share. Sound good?” They nodded. “Please continue.”
“Right,” said Tara. “I remember the man walking to the bathroom. Charlie and I were discussing plans for our next trip, so we both remember him passing through.”
“How did he seem?” asked Price. “Was he walking straight? Did he seem intoxicated at all?”
“Definitely,” said Charlie.
“Agreed,” said Tara. “He nearly knocked into Charlie as he walked by. Then, I don’t remember anything else until he came out, but… Charlie…”
“Right… I heard him talkin’ on the phone, having a heated conversation. Hushed up a bit, but there was some anger in his voice. Tara’s got better eyes than I, but I got her beat on the hearing.” Charlie winked at Tara, and the two of them chuckled softly.
“What did you notice when he came out?” Price said. “Did he seem more intoxicated as he walked passed? The same?”
“Hard to tell,” Tara said. “He passed in a blur down the aisle. But, I do remember, ‘cause I looked up as he passed, seeing the curtain on the other side sort of flap as if someone just went to the bathroom over there. Which was obviously the doctor.”
“Right,” said Charlie. “I didn’t see that the way I was turned, but we both saw the other man, the big fella, and Mr. Clark arguing back at the lockers.”
“Next thing,” Tara said, “Mr. Clark is stumbling back our way before fallin’ flat on his face.”
“And Doctor Sage?” Price said.
“She was on her way back to her seat at that time. Saw him fall, and came runnin’ without a moment to pause. Nothin’ the girl could do in the end. Seemed like he was dead before she even got around.”
“And the flight attendant came to help?”
“Yep,” said Charlie. “A bit squeamish, walked away pale as a ghost.”
“And then you arrived,” Tara finished.
Price took a minute to catch up on the notes in his phone, before looking back up to them, happy to see their faces remaining as normal faces should—nothing contorting or twisting about.
“Thank you,” Price said. “I appreciate the level of detail you gave me. I just have a few more questions. Have you ever met Mr. Clark before?”
“Not that I know of…” said Charlie. “Although, Tara here is convinced he looks familiar.”
“I see, and what was the nature of your trip? London, Munich? Why those destinations, and why a week in each place?”
“Mostly ‘cause why not?” Tara said through a smile. “But, there’s a little more to our planning than that. These last two weeks held major auctions for arts and antiquities of all kinds. First few were in London, and the last few were in Munich.”
“And what did you buy?”
“Pff!” Charlie chided, with a wave of his hand. “Far outside our means, these auctions.”
Price went to interject, but Tara beat him to it, answering the question in his mind.
“It’s about being in the presence of some of the most amazing works of art before they hit museums, or the world never sees them again because somebody bought it for their dining room. We can go to a museum any time, but these auctions are where you see art and artifacts that few have, or will ever see.”
“And the same in Munich?” Price said, lightbulbs firing in his mind. The two of them nodded in agreement. “Well, that’s all I have. Thank you again for your cooperation. You may take your seats now.”
Price didn’t look around to see whether they left or not, or whether Rupert came in for more food and drinks. He was in his own world.
Ok, he thought, first question is why on the plane? Why kill a man on a plane, in first class, where you’ll be an immediate suspect? The answers started coming together. All the information in his head, previously blocked from connecting, now found threads to grab hold to. It wasn’t the plan, he thought. Yet, there was a plan. They wanted Mr. Clark dead. Had the syringe ready to go. But had to act earlier, or out of pure passion, anger, hatred. They couldn’t hold it together, or they couldn’t wait any longer.
It couldn’t be the sleeping couple, as they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to leave the syringe by the body. Most likely one killer, as you wouldn’t need two people. So many other possibilities flashed around his mind. He could make any one of them the killer.
Rupert, the flight attendant, could have dosed Mr. Clark with his drinks and tossed the syringe and bottle as a distraction. Or, drugged him with the drinks first so he could shoot him with the syringe without Mr. Clark feeling it.
The elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Kupp, could have caught Mr. Clark on his walk to the bathroom, taking advantage of his drunken state. They could be lying about the phone call Mr. Clark made, or just be unreliable witnesses, not even remembering that they’ve flown with Mr. Clark three times in two weeks.
Todd Hartland obviously had a temper. He could have acted out, ignoring the plan he had made, letting his anger take over while he was at the lockers with Mr. Clark. There was no telling how fast the poison would take to act. Doctor Sage knew it to be cyanide, but depending on the concentration and dose, the poison could’ve taken immediate effect, or have taken several minutes to show. Todd could’ve taken advantage of the moment by the lockers and tossed the syringe while all eyes were on Mr. Clark.
Doctor Sage would have been able to get the fake insulin bottle and syringe easily. There was also no telling exactly when she went to the bathroom. Perhaps she was back there longer, caught Mr. Clark before he went back to his seat? Which is why he ran back. Or did he run back because of the conversation he had on the phone? Was it even a phone conversation, or a talk with Doctor Sage? Opportunity and means. They all had it.
Motive. It all came down to motive. What reason did anyone have to kill Mr. Clark? And then he had it. His subconscious tried to tell him earlier with his dream of running down the corridor. Now, the information clicked in his conscious mind. The most likely source of Mr. Clark’s off-the-books income. Why the man would be in London and Munich at the same time as Mr. and Mrs. Kupp. And why he went running for his locker when he knew he was dying. All the pieces slammed together as the pilot announced for everyone to take their seats. They began their descent.
They were all strapped in, tray tables away, as the plane descended. Price sat in his original seat, and passengers all stared at him, some boldly asked him questions which he ignored. With the typical bumps and rattles, the plane touched down and was soon crawling through the airport tarmacs in search of their gate. While the pilot welcomed everyone to New York and told them about the weather, Price gathered his own carry-on items—just a laptop bag—and made his way back to the first-class cabin.
Price remained in the galley until the plane was officially parked, and the seatbelt signs turned off. Passengers rushed to grab their items all over the plane, while Price made the first-class passengers all remain seated.
“Listen up,” he said, walking down the aisle towards the front of the cabin. “Very soon, Medical Examiners will be coming onto the plane to remove Mr. Clark. Then, once this is done, officers will take one of you into custody to be charged for the murder of Mr. Clark. I urge each of you to remain in your seats and to remain calm until all this is over. Then, you may grab your items and exit the plane.”
As he finished his announcement, he could hear footsteps climbing the stairs to their level. Shortly after, officers and two medical examiners walked through the curtains and got to work.
“Officers,” Price called. “A quick private word if you will.” He gestured for them to join him behind the curtains by the bathrooms and stairs. After he delivered his instructions, the medical examiners were leaving with the body of Mr. Linus Clark. One officer accompanied them.
“You know what to do,” Price said, nodding to the
remaining two officers.
They walked up the opposite aisle, where the sleeping couple groggily sat up, the teenager pulled his headphones off, and Doctor Sage looked curious. The officers walked to the back of the cabin, where Rupert, the flight attendant, stood. Rupert looked around at the passengers, and at Agent Price with wide eyes as the two officers cuffed him and read him his rights.
“I’ll see you down in one of the interview rooms, Mr. Ingle,” said Price, and Rupert disappeared beyond the curtain with the two officers. He turned back to the passengers, who were all not moving—besides Todd Hartland, who already had his things from his locker. “You can all collect your things, and I’m sorry you all had to go through this. So long.”
Price gave a quick wave and left. He had time to kill, so he grabbed another cup of coffee in the terminal, and then a breakfast burrito. His mind was clear now, and his body even felt more alive too. He tossed the burrito wrapper in the trash and checked his watch. Should be about time, he thought.
A few minutes later, he was sitting in an interview room, alone, awaiting the officers and the murderer. Then, five minutes later, the door handle turned and in walked Doctor Liza Sage, an officer behind her ushering her forward.
“Agent Price?” she said, moving into the room tentatively, wheeling her luggage behind her. “The officer said you needed my assistance? I don’t want to be rude, but it’s been a long flight, and any doctor should be able to assist you now… I’d prefer to go home.”
“Please take a seat,” Price said, gesturing to the chair across the table from himself. She did so. “It turns out, Ms. Sage, that it’s pretty challenging to be certain of anything without forensics to back up my theories. I must not take that part of my investigations for granted again! Although, in the end, I got my man… so to speak.”
She stared back, confused. “I know, we saw you arrest the flight attendant.”
“Ah, yes, but Mr. Ingle isn’t the murderer.” Price leaned back in his chair casually. “I just knew he’d be a good sport, and from what I gather, he was.”
“I don’t understand. What’s going on?”
“There were only a few details to work from on this case,” Price explained, leaning forward. “First, was the syringe and bottle found by the body. Who could have placed that there with no one else seeing? I reasoned… anyone except for Mr. Ingle, our flight attendant. You, even in your hyper-focused state, would have seen him drop that syringe or Mr. or Mrs. Kupp for that matter who were watching so closely.”
“Then, Mr. Clark’s body told us he’d been poisoned, and my years around crime scenes agreed with what you told me. You were so helpful—a smart move.”
“A smart move…?”
Price ignored her and kept talking. “Also, Mr. Clark had two receipts on him. The first showed that he’d spent an extravagant amount of money on just his hotel while staying in Munich. Cash payment too, and from the information my colleagues shared, this was all too extravagant for a man of his assets. He was clearly making a lot of money illegally. Yet, most likely not with drugs or weapons trading as he had no affiliation with any gangs or cartels.”
“Where are you going with this, Agent Price?” Sage said sternly. “I have been very helpful, and now it seems you’re about to accuse me of murder. I’d like to go now.”
“I’m sorry, Ms. Sage, but you can’t leave.” She looked back at Price with indignation. “You know why, but I’ll lay it all out, how I know it was you.” She folded her arms and looked away. “The second receipt on Mr. Clark was tucked neatly into his passport as if preserved. It was important to him. Mr. Clark marked his luggage to be handled with extra care during the flight. So, what could I make of that? There was something he valued very much in his luggage.
“Then, Charlie and Tara Kupp explained the purpose of their trip to London and Munich. Arts and antiquities, Ms. Sage. It sparked an idea of what could be so valuable in his luggage. I thought that if major auctions were going on—legally—that would be an excellent time for certain black-market sellers to do the same. This is how Mr. Clark has been hiding his money. Buying up black-market arts and antiquities, using his extra cash, and storing them somewhere for a rainy day. When he needs more money in the future, he can sell his collection back on the black-market and take the cash. But… you know all this already.”
“No, I don’t. I didn’t know Mr. Clark, but I was the one who tried to save his life!”
“Another brilliant move, Ms. Sage, as you already knew you wouldn’t be able to do so. No one would. Not from cyanide poisoning.”
“Why would I kill him?”
“Because of his computer. That’s what he ran to get when his life was ending. Who would do that? What could be so important on a laptop that one would race towards it, rather than call for help, or point out his killer? Perhaps to send a message? I think it likely that Mr. Clark was an extortionist—a blackmailer, and he’s been blackmailing you, Ms. Sage.”
She rolled her eyes, but Price could see the color of her cheeks growing crimson, and he continued.
“Mr. Kupp said he heard Mr. Clark having a heating phone call by the bathrooms. Yet, there was no phone on the body, nor in his locker. So, who was he talking to by the bathrooms? Himself? Maybe Mr. Kupp didn’t hear things correctly? No. I think it more likely that he heard the only other person who could have been by the bathrooms at the same time as Mr. Clark—you.”
Price paused to take a breath, reveling in his brain working as it should again, then continued.
“I gather that, somehow, you discovered the identity of your blackmailer. Discovered even how he was laundering his money, and hatched a plan to end his life and get back your hard-earned cash. You follow him, flying coach, to each of his destinations. Most likely following him around London and Munich to ensure he was indeed purchasing valuable items with your money. Then, on the way back home, you fly first class with him, because now you need to stay close. Yet, it all goes wrong. He recognizes you at the bathrooms, despite your change in hair color, and knows exactly what you’re there for. Why else would you be there but to kill him? So, he tells you that he’s going to expose your secret to the world—whatever that is—right then, right there. You have no choice but to take immediate action, and you’re already prepared, syringe locked and loaded in your hand-bag. You wanted to wait until we landed, but he forced your hand. So, you inject him then and there. Instead of calling for help, or trying to identify you, he races to his laptop to try and expose your secret before he dies. His last act showing that he was indeed a contemptible man, but…”
“You are reaching for some insane connection here, Agent Price, and so far, all you have is a bunch of hearsay. Whoever the killer is, you have no evidence, and so you try to pin it on the one person least likely to kill. I save lives, Agent Price.”
“That’s quite right, Ms. Sage. Quite right. What physical evidence do I have of any of this without forensics? I told you, I won’t take our forensics teams for granted ever again. But, I found a way none the less. I arrested Mr. Ingle, so you would feel like you got away free. To give you time to bring the evidence to me. Can I see your luggage, please?”
Liza’s face hardened to stone, frozen in place. She didn’t move, perhaps couldn’t. Price stood up and retrieved the suitcase. He placed it on the table.
“Not your bag, Ms. Sage,” he said, holding up the tag. She said nothing and still hadn’t moved a muscle. Price unzipped the luggage. “Let’s see what priceless artifacts Mr. Clark bought in Europe.” Throwing open the suitcase, inside were objects all wrapped tightly. Price unwrapped the largest one, and inside was an ancient ax. “It was a brilliant plan, Ms. Sage. Kill your blackmailer, and take back the money you, and most likely others, had lost to this man. What will we find on his laptop, Ms. Sage?”
Finally, she moved, looking up slowly, her face seemed to have melted. No emotion left to be expressed.
“There’s nothing in the world I love more than being a doctor, Agent Price. Nothing. And I’m damn good too. Top five surgeon in the country. I’ve worked on Presidents, you know.” Her eyes began to sparkle with tears. “One night, I was on call, and I drank. At this stage in my career, I could always pass off anything while I was on call, so I thought… why not? A train came off the tracks that evening, and it was all hands on deck. I had to go in and perform. I had ten surgeries that night. Ten. And I saved nine. No one would say, or did say, that I made a single mistake in that surgery. But, somehow, this cretin got hold of my bar tab from that night. If anyone discovered this, I’d lose my license forever. There are no second chances with that. I am a great doctor. I have saved hundreds of patients, and one night, one mistake… and it would all be gone.”
“So, you paid whatever he asked.”
“Of course. Lives depended on it! But it got too much. And then I discovered who he was, and how he was laundering our money. So, I followed him on his trip and planned to do exactly as you said. Hit him with the cyanide on our way to baggage claim, grab the laptop and his luggage, and disappear. If anyone ever caught up to me as a potential suspect, there’d be no evidence left to point to me by that point.”
“Ms. Sage,” Agent Price said, packing up the luggage. “Officers will soon be in to escort you to a local precinct. I recommend you maintain your level of cooperation. It may help you with your sentencing.” Price picked up the luggage and made for the door.
“I notice you stopped calling me ‘doctor,'” she said, not turning to look at him.
“You stopped being a doctor a few hours ago, Ms. Sage. Goodbye.” He left, wheeling the priceless works of art behind him. Forensics is going to have a field day with these items, he thought with a smile.
What Did You Think?
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