"Yes, it's my business card," I answered. I picked it up, doing so before the flustered security official could prevent that, and turned it over just to be sure. Yes, it had Theo's ship-to-shore number on the back in my handwriting. I knew it would, but I had to be sure. "It will, of course, have my prints on it," I said. "I confirm it's one I gave out just a couple of hours ago. May I ask how--?"
"I can't say . . . I'm not the one . . . please, we'll have to wait just a bit longer before we get into that, Mr. Folsom."
"Detective Folsom," I responded. Might as well keep it clear that we were all family here. I felt bad for the guy. He obviously was in over his head. Just an airport security guy. I was sure he almost never had to deal in death; certainly not in murder. And I was three steps ahead of him here. I knew now why Gary Meltzer hadn't made the Key West flight--and why I hadn't seen him get off the Miami flight. He was dead, murdered during the flight. And the knitting needle, last seen by me in the hair of an Oriental woman walking away from us at the airport bar, meant that I knew more than the security guy did.
"I have a flight to make. Or at least I did. I'm expected in Key West. I'll have to make a call. May I--?"
"I . . . we would really prefer that you didn't make any calls just now, Mr. . . . Detective Folsom. I really have no authority except to ask you to remain here for the moment. There will be later flights to Key West. You were going there on police business?" The security guy's trembling voice not only signaled his embarrassment and consternation but also sounded like he was unsure whether he really could hold me here, whether he might be impeding higher-priority police work.
I did what I could to relieve him. I felt for the guy, who was sweating profusely, even though the air conditioning in the room was cranked up high. "No, I'm on vacation. Not official travel."
"Ah then," the security guy said, and the noticeable release of tension in his body made me happy I'd let him off the hook. It wasn't his fault a DEA agent was murdered on one of his arriving airplanes. I couldn't even be sure that he knew Meltzer had been a DEA agent.
"Look, I can see where this is going," I said. "Gary Meltzer is an old friend of mine. He's a DEA agent; I'm an NYPD homicide cop. We found ourselves in the boarding area for the same flight from Atlanta, and we were both headed to Key West. I gave him that card just a couple of hours ago--so he'd know how to contact me in Key West. But I haven't seen him since. I was in business class and he was back in coach. Can you just tell me if he's--?"
The security official held his arms out in front of him as if to ward off the very words I was about to speak, and it was at that point that he was saved.
"Hello, Clint. I always seem to be dropping in on you in compromising positions, don't I?"
Hearing her voice was a shock. I had no idea that Sylvia Browne had moved to Miami homicide. I knew she'd left New York some time ago, but I had no idea where she'd gone. This most certainly was one of those "old home week" days for me.
And there was no doubt she was Miami homicide--and well up on the totem pole. She'd entered the room like she owned the place, a shiny badge hanging from her belt, and the airport security official virtually melted into the floor out of relief that someone was here he could dump the problem on.
"That's OK, Mr. Fuentes," she said smoothly. "Thanks for your help. I can take it from here. You'll see to helping my techs, won't you?"
She stared hard at me for the few seconds Mr. Fuentes needed to bow and scrape in relief and clear the room, and then, her voice still biting, she said, "We seem to be destined to meet in unpleasant circumstances, don't we, Clint?"
We were alone now, so I saw no reason to cover my response. "Neither was of my doing, Sylvia. I had no idea that you and Peter were seeing each other, and Peter initiated it--his relationship with me. And today's encounter with Gary Meltzer was completely coincidental. He's dead, isn't he?"
"Murdered during the flight from Atlanta to Miami?"
"Yes," she answered again, but this time her eyebrows went up.
"Just deduction, Sylvia," I answered. "I've seen this knitting needle before. The murder weapon, I assume?"
She just gave me a curt little nod of acquiescence. She was still staring at me hard.
"There was nothing in my brief conversations that would indicate Meltzer thought he was in any danger, Sylvia. But I saw that knitting needle being used as a hairpin by an Oriental woman, who I only saw from the back, when Meltzer and I were sitting at a bar in the Atlanta airport. Meltzer actually drew my attention to her because he thought she was showing too much interest in me. Seems possible now that it was Meltzer she was showing interest in."
That's when it hit me that the woman had been in the company of the movie guy, Derek Dominick, who had come on to me so strongly and completely during the flight into Miami. And I felt a little deflated, because I could now see that his attention was focused on keeping me from going looking for Meltzer--and that it was no accident that he hadn't given me contact information. I doubted if he was in the movies at all--or that his name was Derek Dominick. I suddenly was seeing this as at least partially my case and starting the wheels to grind on how I was going to pursue it.
"Did you know that Gary Meltzer was a senior DEA agent?" I asked.
"Yes. He was carrying credentials. He still had his wallet with money and credit cards in it; it doesn't look like a robbery. We're already in contact with DEA Washington," Sylvia said. "They are on their way and weren't very forthcoming. I wouldn't be surprised if the FBI came along with them."
I could tell that bothered Sylvia plenty. And I could see where it would. I'd had the Feds snarf up my cases from under my nose before myself. I had no grudge against Sylvia. She thought--wrongly--that she had one against me. But Sylvia was a good cop, and I saw no reason not to help her.
"Well, if I tell you what little I know--which should at least give you some leads and probably is more than DEA will tell you before they close down your investigation--will you let me take the next flight to Key West?"
Her eyes narrowed and she was thinking hard, but she slid into in the chair across from me at the table, so I knew we were reaching some common ground. "Depends," she said. "What can you tell me?"
"Meltzer was on his way to Key West. He said he was close to making a big-time drug bust and rolling up a narcotics king pin down there. Chances are good that's why he's dead. And chances are even better that DEA won't give you even that much information."
"Granted," she said, and I saw the tension go out of her body, if only a fraction. "Is there more?"
"Check out who was in seat 3C on the Atlanta to Miami flight," I said. "I have a strong hunch--nothing that I'll say anything further on--that you'll find an accomplice to Meltzer's murderess if you can pin that guy down. A beach boy blond, hulky, hunky type. Movie stuntman type. I was sitting across the aisle from him, and I saw him in the company of the woman owning that knitting needle back in the Atlanta terminal."
"Just your type, was he?" Sylvia said with a bitter edge to her voice. "Maybe someone who distracted you so you wouldn't go back and check on Meltzer while he was being offed?"
Sylvia wasn't anything if not quick on the uptake. And it would be painful for her to hear the all of it, so I didn't answer that question.
"OK. You can go on to Key West, and I'll do what I can not to sic DEA or FBI on you--God knows I'll enjoy having something they don't know when they stonewall me. But make sure I know where you are. And don't leave Florida without telling me, OK?"
"Fine with me," I said, "The back of that business card gives you the number where I'll be. And the front gives you my cell phone number. Now, can I use my phone to call down there and let them know I'm not on the expected flight?"
"OK," Sylvia said in a weary voice. She stood, moved to the door, and opened it. But before she stepped through it, she turned and said in the same hard voice she'd entered the room with, "I'd say it was nice seeing you again, Clint. But it wasn't." And then she was gone.
Sylvia Browne was gone now, but the bitterness that she left in her wake was still suffocating. I felt sorry. But I didn't feel guilty. And it was that lack of guilt that Sylvia probably could never understand or accept. There was no question she was justified in her hurt and shock at having come home days early from a police procedures conference out of state and finding her husband in bed with me--but beyond that, nothing was my fault. Peter Blair had pursued me and had done so when I was new to the NYPD, new to the homicide job and vulnerable to all the horrors of meaningless death around me--wanting to choose and celebrate life instead. And Peter, the senior detective, ever solicitous of how I was doing, how I felt, was there to give me a steady hand and to be my friend--my special friend.
And he had finally won me and we'd had a brief, but torrid affair. He had a great body and a soothing personality and a cock that mastered me and made me feel alive and wanted. But it had been an accident that had found me in his apartment that night. I was coming by to pick him up for a late-night movie and then a tryst in a hotel, and I'd been caught in a downpour between my car and his door and he'd made me come in to dry off and change clothes. And the first thing I knew, we were in his bed and I was on my belly and he was straddling my hips and fucking me fast and deep.
And Sylvia walked in on us.
But none of that was my fault--except maybe the part that I didn't, even then, stop giving in to Peter whenever he laid his hand on my belly and whispered that he wanted me. Peter and Sylvia had kept their marriage secret. They could not have both worked homicide in New York side by side as husband and wife. Sylvia had every right to be bitter and angry. But at Peter Blair, not at me.
And not long after the blowup--the last time I'd seen Sylvia before she had walked into the airport security room just now--Peter Blair had moved to a cushy rural sheriff's job in a rich county in Virginia just south of Washington, D.C., and Sylvia had disappeared altogether--obviously having ended up working Miami homicide.
It hadn't been my fault--and I didn't feel guilty about it--but if I could help Sylvia Browne keep control of and solve this murder case, I would do so. And maybe, just maybe, I'd see if I could track down this Derek Dominick, or whoever he was, myself. That part of this puzzle was personal now.