Customer service

Susannah Fontaine-Williams landed at JFK, ambled quickly through customs, and isn’t the new system great, and saw the man holding her sign, S WILLIAMS. Her driver, Rodrigo, led her to the black car waiting at the curb, held the door open and in she climbed, escaping the sweaty New York City morning.

Walt sat in the back seat behind the driver; though she saw him she didn’t acknowledge him. Let him speak first.

“Home?” Rodrigo said. She nodded to his sunglassed reflection in the rear view mirror. The glass partition began closing and she said, “Let’s drop off your other passenger on Canal first.” He nodded and the partition closed.

Skippable pleasantries:
“Hi Walt,” she exhaled.
“Hello Ms. Fontaine-Williams,” he said. “Good flight?”
“Slept through it.”

On with the story:
She thought for a minute how badly she’d wanted to see Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Declaration of Independence at the New York Public Library. She’d landed on July third, the last day it would be on display, but this post didn’t get written for nearly a week and by now it had returned to from whence it came. “Damn,” she whispered. “My fault,” I whispered back, that voice in her head we all have, only hers is mine.

Walt fidgeted beside her, uncertain where to start. He didn’t like being a passenger in cars. He never knew what to do with his ungainly long arms. The limo had handles above the doors and he grabbed the one on his left allowing his left arm to hang. But the right arm, what to do with the right arm? On the ride to the airport, it spread wing-like over the top of the back seat. Very comfortable. Now, with Susannah next to him an extended arm would drape over her shoulders – and that would require explaining – so he crossed it back in front of him and now held the handle in a two-fisted grip.

SFW reversed her position on who would go first and said, “Walt, it’s very kind of you to come meet me at the airport. Not many people would do that, especially for just a customer.”

“How is the bag working out?” Walt said.

“It has exceeded my every expectation,” Susannah said. “You have no idea how much I crammed in here for my trip.” Despite the ever-present construction,  they soon were entering Manhattan via the Queens-Midtown Tunnel.

“My memory isn’t so good – I wrote it down.” He pulled out a slip of paper.  “Six dresses, two pair of shorts, a few tank tops, a dozen panties and bras, six pair flats, four pair of heels, some gifts which I see you’ve brought back with you. Six skirts, six tops, two dozen…”

“How do you know all that?”

“Hard to explain. Maybe it’s better I show you.”

She turned to look out the window and watched the buildings of Midtown Manhattan roll by. This should be taking much longer. Where’s all the traffic? And she wasn’t sure if it was her voice or mine asking those questions. If he knows the contents of my bag, what else does he know?

“Am I in trouble, Walt?”

“May I see the bag?” he said. She tilted her head slightly and it reminded me of what a golden retriever does sometimes. It’s a quizzical thing. “I just want to check it out. I’ll give it back.” She handed it to him.

He held it up by the handle at eye level, slowly turned it, rubbing its surface and closely eyeing it. “Amazing!”

“What?!?”

“No damage, no signs of wear. It’s held up remarkably well. May I open it?” he said while opening it. He peered into its black interior, shook it, turned it upside down – nothing came out – and put a hand inside and rooted around.

“Anything you want to tell me…about the bag’s performance?” he said. “Anything odd?”

Oh, she thought, like a shoplifted Vera Wang disappearing? Like a hat and a knife conveniently appearing just when I needed them? 

“This bag saved my life.”

The car pulled up to Walt’s place in Chinatown. Walt handed back the bag to her. Rodrigo came around and opened Susannah Fontaine-Williams’ door, and helped her out. She signed the receipt – her show would be billed, or the station would – and handed him a fifty. “Shall I wait for you?” Rodrigo asked.

She looked to Walt for guidance. It must have been a combination of the sweaty air, a growing psychic disorientation, and standing too quickly that made her dizzy and she leaned against the car until the feeling passed.

“We’ll be awhile,” Walt said.

Selective vow-keeping

While Susannah Fontaine-Willliams slowly medicated herself into an undreamingly refreshing sleep, Walt considered the events he’d witnessed through the storage pod’s window into her realm. The lurid double-murder story had made its way to the United States quickly and was getting its momentary share of traditional news coverage, as well as tweets, likes, comments, and speculative theories. But he was the only one who knew what happened.

And that made him a witness. He considered his options, and as a man of great integrity, coming forward was, in a black and white world without portal-enabled extra-dimensional handbags, the right thing to do. He’d also considered the vow he’d taken long ago to abide by the laws and customs of each place he inhabited. He had also vowed not to give away technology, and not to get caught. That – on impulse – he had given Susannah Fontaine-Williams a powerful handbag with still to be discovered properties spoke to what he feared was yet another crippling crush on a beautiful, unattainable creature that had impaired his once impeccable judgment. Again.

Discussion question: What is about Walt that the writer is intimating but not saying? 

Hats and upgrades

Models posing in examples of three floppy hats.
Models demonstrating examples of three floppy hats.

Walt thrummed his fingers on his workbench as he watched the newsfeed on BBC International. Susannah Fontaine-Williams, tanned and relaxed, watched from a bar at Athens International, while Macallan and wife, back on the Greek mainland, drove back to Alethia’s ancestral home.

It came as no surprise to any of them that the bodies of a man and a woman were found in a cabin below deck, that the man’s skull had been caved in by a fire extinguisher and the woman’s windpipe had been brutally crushed.

“Authorities are searching for a tall man and a woman wearing a floppy hat in connection with the double homicide,” the news said.

A picture taken by a security camera at the dock showed a man and an unrecognizable woman wearing a floppy hat. Walt screen-grabbed the image and enlarged it. SFW’s grainy, hat-obscured features grew even less distinct, but anyone could clearly see the stylish handbag dangling from her sunburned shoulder.

Susannah Fontaine-WIlliams boarded her flight, pleased that she’d upgraded to the pod section in the front of the jet. On her mind as the jet taxied to the runway:

  1. Take a zolpidem and try to sleep, or stay awake and watch movies?
  2. Turn to a life of crime?
  3. Turn to a life of heroic deeds?

She popped the zolpi and chased it with duty free cuban rum.  Are  numbers two and three mutually exclusive, she wondered. “Oooh, they have the Lego Movie!” she said. She’d been scrolling the movie listings.

“Excuse me miss,” a flight attendant said, “did you need something?”

“A glass of champagne would be nice,” and she pulled the blanket up around her, put on the complimentary eye mask, stretched out in her pod and started the Lego Movie.

Errors, omissions, clarifications, and corrections

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Susannah Fontaine-Williams thought about dipping her toes in the pool.

A few details have fallen through the cracks of this leaky story, so the editorial board and I agreed (I was coerced) to use this post to clear up a few matters and and to address some errors and omissions that the both of you may have noticed.

First, before boarding the ferry, SFW wrapped a scarf around her neck to cover up the bruises left by the serial killer, Dr. Morose – I’ve forgotten his name, but if you read back a post or two, you’ll see it.  Glenfiddich notices SFW’s bruises while chatting with her on the ferry but says nothing.  Second, SFW cut her finger on the blade of the knife while fiddling with it in her purse just before using it to stop the attack of the evil Dr. Morose, ending his villainous life. Perhaps he should have been dispatched earlier in life before he entered this tale.

It’s likely that the cut on her finger means nothing and has no effect on the story. Of course she daubed it with neosporin and a waterproof bandaid, just two of the many supplies tucked away in her extra-dimensional handbag/medicine chest. So no need to worry about infection.

Next, not only does she feel no remorse for killing Dr. Morose, the up close life or death combat left her exhilirated, as do most of her experiences. Fun fact:  remorse and morose are almost but not quite anagrams.

One of you asked if SFW would end up in a threesome with the store detective and his wife. Kudos for picking up on the subtle sexual tension between the lines involving Glenfiddich, Alethia and SFW. Short answer, doubtful, but yes, why wouldn’t she? Consenting adults and all that jazz.

Bob from Jenkintown points out, “this started as a kind of sexy sci-fi thing, but has veered into uncomfortable territory for me. I’m sticking with it though in the hopes that maybe there’s some time travel or aliens.” Bob raises a valid point.

Now, on with the narrative:

After she had explained everything, omitting the extra-dimensional qualities of her bag, the three of them sat on the Macallan’s villa terrace in bathrobes, limbs entwined, and watched the news.  “Authorities are investigating a yacht found docked unattended on the island of Delos…”

 

The 8:00 PM ferry

Is my life better or worse since the bag, SFW mused, watching the docked Gambit recede from the stern of the ferry. She opened her handbag and gazed into its blackness wondering what happened to all the things she put inside that disappeared then reappeared. Walt gazed back, unseen, still stunned by what he’d seen from the other side of  the open bag. She relaxed forward on the railing as the sun slowly dropped toward the horizon.

“I don’t remember seeing you on the ferry out here,” a man said. She recognized Macallan’s voice. “Mac,” she said, turning, inching close in to him like she would a lover. This wasn’t a flirtation, but a sudden need to be encircled by someone familiar. “In fact, I swear I saw you get on that boat over there with someone a few hours ago. Different dress, but she had your walk.”

“Do I have such a distinctive way of walking?”

“Did you know that a person’s gait is as individual as fingerprints?” Did I leave fingerprints? She began thinking about details. Could she just sail away on the 8:00 PM ferry trouble-free? Now there was Macallan to consider.

“You know,” he said. “Alethia has family here. We don’t get here as often as we’d like but I’ve seen hundreds of sunsets and this one’s going to be a good one.” She nodded. There will be a story tomorrow about a yacht abandoned on the island, and a search for the owner. Hopefully they won’t find the body or the dress. Maybe a witness saw them together. Maybe she left fingerprints or something else behind on the boat. Macallan will quickly piece it together so she decided she would tell him what happened before they docked at Mykonos.

“We’re out here on this ferry in another part of the world and I’m hoping you can clear something up for me. This has been eating at me for weeks.” She smiled. “How did you do it? How did you get those clothes out of my store?”

“Mac, who is this?” a woman’s voice said. SFW turned toward her, extended her hand, and said, “Hi, I’m Susannah Fontaine-Williams.”

Let’s leave things as they are for today and end with the cloudless sunset that didn’t quite live up to Macallan’s prediction.

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The lone witness

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Breathing hurt. Susannah Fontaine-Williams quickly peeled off her suddenly blood-stained dress. She poured what was left of her bottled water on her hands and wiped clean the blood with the unstained parts of the dress. She tossed the dress and the bottle down the cistern into which the tall Greek man had staggered and fallen with the knife buried hilt-deep in his gut.

For a moment she stood naked in the shadows, save for the sunhat that had remained firmly on her head. She strained to listen for sounds, anything, approaching voices, footsteps, a dying man struggling in the sickly green water. But all was quiet. She pushed the gravel with her feet to make sure her hearing still worked. Except for a lizard standing atop an ancient wall, there wasn’t another creature in sight.

From her bag, she pulled the cute blue and white striped dress she had shoplifted in Santorini a few days earlier. Though she hadn’t tried it on first, it fit perfectly. She sat on the edge of the cistern, closed her eyes, and caught a vivid glimpse of an alternate life. She sat by a swimming pool dangling her feet in the cool water watching Bob Williams playing with their triplets. He picked up their daughter, tossing her gently and she splashed down, holding her nose to keep the water out. “Me next, daddy!” the boys screamed. 

The droning villain

“Perhaps, Susannah Fontaine-Williams, you are not cautious.” That’s not very insightful now, is it, she thought. “Perhaps it is unwise to follow a man you don’t know into a hidden place.” He eased the pressure on her throat enough to allow the carbon dioxide to escape her lungs and fresh air to enter. She wanted to cough but he had tightened the grip once more.

She looked into the one brown eye and one blue eye of her tormentor and swore that the brown used to be on the left, not the right as it now was. He smiled. “Is that better?” he said. “Does it hurt…your throat?” She couldn’t speak and she couldn’t nod her head so she just stared back at his eyes.

“The world,” Tassos continued, ‘is a corrupt place. He sighed, “I was not always this way. Like anyone, I would think of killing from time to time. It is natural to want to kill someone, is’t it?” She could only look into his unblinking eyes. SFW, fortunately, an accomplished swimmer (bronze medal, freestyle, 2006 Olympics) and everyday miler at the pool, had great wind. She could hold her breath for several minutes at a time.

She hadn’t noticed that her right hand was in her handbag now feebly fumbling over the many objects in storage. He hadn’t paid it any mind either. He paused to weigh the import of his own words, as if she would continue her TV show on an afterlife cable network and might have a life – or death – lesson to convey to her audience from her experience dying today.

“Do you want to know where I got the inspiration to kill?” She couldn’t speak and the lack of oxygen again made her woozy. “Of course you do! From watching your CSI. Very inspiring!” He let up on the pressure again allowing her another single breath. “Just pick someone you don’t know. Random is best. And always dispose of the body with care.

“Now, where was I? Yes, the world is corrupt. Everyone gets away with what they can. And there are too many…too many people doing too much evil. The human race – we are just animals with nice things. Do you need a breath?” He released his grip again. Stale air rushed out and fresh air replaced it. Her throat hurt.

“Where was I? Yes. I am like your Dexter. You know the show? Good. I weed out the evil. Anyone with privilege and means, we must assume has come about that privilege and means by doing something wrong, or through wrongdoing somewhere in their bloodline. You see now why this is happening to you, don’t you? I am just an instrument. I hope you appreciate that.”

A man in a stylish hat photographs one of the many wells on Delos.
A man in a stylish hat photographs one of the many wells on Delos.

He stopped talking but continued looking into her eyes. Her eyes were watering and her head ached. She was thirsty and her hand rested on the hilt of the pearl-handled ankh knife in her handbag. During his monologue she had been very carefully unhitching knife from sheath and felt confident she had bared the blade. “What do you say, one more breath and then we say goodbye?” he said.

 

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