I piloted the G550 down the runway, lifting her off the ground and into the morning sky out of sheer force of habit. My real attention was focused on the beautiful young woman I'd just left behind, her outstretched arms still waving at me from the ground. Even when she ceased being a tiny pinprick in my view, I couldn't stop thinking about how much I loved her, how I already felt incomplete without her, and how much I couldn't wait to finish this job and get back to her. I'd only been in love twice before in my life, but my feelings for Paris were more than my feelings for all the other women combined.
My next thought came to me in an instant, as if it were hovering in the back of my mind all along. The thought was simple and life-altering at the same time. When I arrived in New York, I planned to make an appointment to meet with the private jeweler at Tiffany's on Fifth Avenue and buy an engagement ring. When it came to Paris, only the best would do, and I intended to spoil her in ways she'd never known. That, of course, was going to be a near impossible task, since she was born with a platinum teething rattle, but that was what love made men do: the near impossible.
“This is 34699, calling base. Unc, are you there?” I shouted into my headset over the heavy crackle of static. We had gotten in the habit of using ham radio signals, because they were unlikely to be listened to by law enforcement or criminal enterprises. “This is 34699. Are you there?”
“Where the hell else would you expect me to be?” my uncle replied in a raspy voice. I could hear just enough to know that he had recently woken up, probably next to some beautiful young woman. I smiled at the thought. I hadn't realized how much I missed his foolish behind.
“I'll be landing in Manchester in about two hours. Going to need you to pick me up. We got a lot to talk about when I get there,” I announced.
“So we got another job?” Willie answered back, and I could hear the excitement in his voice. “Must be real big if you're calling my sorry ass this time of the morning. It's about time you put the band back together.”
I chuckled. “Yeah, we're going home to New York.”
“New York. I like the sound of that . . . I hope,” he replied. It was probably dawning on him that this meant the job was bigger than he had originally assumed. “How long we staying?” he asked tentatively.
“Four to eight weeks,” I said in code, knowing he would understand that it meant less than forty-eight hours on the ground.
And he did. “I'll make arrangements for a charter from here to Teterboro Airport. We can be in the air within five hours of you landing. I've got your go-bags packed and ready to go. I'm figuring you're gonna wanna see Lora before we leave.”
“There's no doubt about that.” I sighed happily, bringing the plane around in hopes of getting one last glimpse of Paris. “How's she doing?”
“She's doing good. I'm sure she's laying around here somewhere playing with those damn rats you brought her,” he said with a laugh.
“Will you stop calling them rats! Those are dogs. Very expensive miniature Dobermans, I might add, and she loves them.”
“Niles, I'm from New York. I used to drive a cab for a living. I know a damn rat when I see one. Y'all just putting collars on them.” He knew his comments would get under my skin. Willie had always liked to push my buttons, but I knew it was all in good humor.
I didn't answer him, because my mind was suddenly somewhere else. Something was wrong, I quickly checked the controls panel, but nothing seemed out of order.
“What the fuck is that noise?” I mumbled to myself, the vibrating static growing more intermittent.
“Everything all right?” Willie asked.
“I don't know, but I hear some type of humming.” I took a quick look around the cockpit, noting that it was empty except for my bag. I always flew light.
“Shit, Niles, you think it's the plane?”
“Everything seems all right,” I answered, but I knew anything out of the ordinary on a plane had to be checked out right away. One little miscalculation could mean death. I put the plane on autopilot and unstrapped myself from my seat, still wearing my wireless headphones.
I walked to the back of the plane, stopping at the carry-on bag I'd brought onto the plane.
“What the fuck!” I shouted. There was no doubt the humming was coming from within the bag.
“What?” My uncle's voice crackled over my headphones, but I ignored him as I reached down to open the bag and investigate.
“Niles! Niles! Niles!”
“Unc,” I finally replied, staring down into the bag.
“There's a girl. Her name is Paris,” I murmured, getting choked up. “She's really pretty, Unc. Really pretty. She goes to some fancy school outside of the city of Paris, but she's probably from New York.”
“Yeah? What about her?”
“I love her, Unc. I love her like no woman I've ever loved before.” Tears began to run down my face as I tried to wrap my head around the situation I suddenly found myself in. “But if for some reason I don't make it, I want you to kill that bitch!”
“I don't understand. You love her but I should kill her? Niles, what the fuck is going on?” There was fear in his voice. I think he understood more than he was admitting to himself at the moment.
I looked down at my bag and all those warm thoughts turned dark and frozen with the realization that Paris was not the person I thought she was. “Because that bitch is trying to kill me. She put a bomb in my bag.”