Other People's BaggageBy: Kendel Lynn & Diane Vallere & Gigi Pandian
A Mad for Mod Mystery Novella
(prequel to Pillow Stalk)
MIDNIGHT ICE: ONE
I started my getaway on the floor. And by floor, I mean the beige speckled linoleum tile squares that covered the ground by the Monterey Airport baggage claim. A fragile-looking Chihuahua broke free from the grasp of a young girl and ran over to sniff me. The girl moved toward the dog but her dad held her hand tightly. She started to cry. I tried to roll over again, but a stab of pain shot through my knee cap and I flopped back onto my butt. My face flushed with embarrassment, not over the fact that a group of official looking men and a steady stream of travelers had seen the turquoise cotton panties I wore under my early sixties aqua sheath dress but because I knew I needed to ask someone for help getting back up and I didn’t like to ask for help strangers, official-looking or otherwise.
The passengers around me gave me a one foot berth, enough to indicate I was woman down, but not enough to give up their prime spot for retrieving their luggage as it came off the beltline.
A man in a black suit approached me. He corralled my crutches to the side with his foot, then stood behind me and put his hands under my arms. I held the end to the Chihuahua’s leash in my hand as I stood, then crutched to the little girl, her dog trailing behind me, and returned her charge. The official-looking man stood by the luggage conveyor belt watching me.
“You okay?” asked the man who had helped me up. Now that we were face to face I noticed he was not much taller than I was. He was tan, with a mole under his left eye. His longish sandy-blond hair was parted on the side and tucked behind his ears. He held a piece of paper that said Day.
“Reservation for Day? That’s me. Give me a second to get my suitcase and we can go.”
The crowd of travelers had thinned significantly, and only a few bags were left on the luggage belt. My blue and white 1950’s hardback suitcase was one of them. I anchored the crutches under my arms and moved closer to the belt. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to realize I couldn’t pick up my suitcase while balanced on the crutches.
“Which one’s yours?”
“The blue and white one,” I answered.
He pulled the suitcase from the conveyor belt and turned away from me. He walked fast, faster than I would have expected considering he was well aware of my crutch-handicap, I didn’t ask him to slow down. I was going to function the way I always functioned, post-knee injury or no post-knee injury.
The driver and I reached the parking lot within twenty seconds of each other. When I arrived at the car he was shutting the trunk with my luggage inside. He opened the back door of the sedan and waved for me to go inside.
“Ms. Day,” he said with a nod.
“Actually, it’s not Day, it’s Night.” His eyebrows and his mouth turned down at the same time, as if little puppet strings from somewhere below us controlled is expression. “Madison Night,” I added, turning my introduction into a James Bond-ism.
“Madison Night?” he checked his clipboard. “I have a reservation for D. Day.”
“I didn’t want to travel under my own name. If you check your paperwork, you’ll find my name matches the name on the credit card used to hold the reservation.” His suspicion was obvious but I ignored it. My knee throbbed from the fall by the baggage claim and now, to add insult to injury, my underarms ached from the speed-crutching I’d done to keep up with him.
I pulled the crutches out from under me and pushed them into the back seat, then followed them into the dark black interior. I slid my license and credit card from the wallet inside the quilted leather bag I had slung across my body and waited for the inevitable request to see them. Instead, he shut my door and walked around the other side, then climbed in behind the wheel.
“Forgive me, Ms. Night. When I saw a reservation for D. Day, going to Carmel By-The-Sea, well, I thought I might be having a brush with fame.”
“To tell you the truth, Doris Day is why I’m going to Carmel. She’s like a—” I stopped talking abruptly, realizing I didn’t know how to finish the sentence to a stranger.