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“Kate, I don’t understand how you manage to live in the twenty-first century and travel all over the country showing dogs when you’ve never flown.” Sal Mondigliani, Kate Killoy’s kennel manager, settled deeper into the second of the two kitchen chairs as yet another fear-of-flying lecture descended.
“We drove. Gramps, Dad, and I took a bunch of dogs, loaded up the van, and hit the road. That way we got to see the country.”
“Wait, are you afraid of flying?”
Bam. Right on schedule. “Sal, I’m not having this discussion. In the last twenty-four hours, every Killoy possessed of a Y chromosome has weighed in on the subject. Seamus has been inundating me with statistical information on car vs. plane crashes, Tim with the aeronautical data on lift forces, Tom on time vs. cost ratios, and Will has forwarded me forty-one online articles about overcoming the fear of flying. In spite of—or maybe because of—this, I will admit I’m not anticipating flying to Denver alone this afternoon.”
“Wait, didn’t Foyle say he had to be in Denver tomorrow? Aren’t you two going together?”
“Apparently not.” The hurt she struggled to keep out of her voice crept in. Harry Foyle, her fiancé, and she had planned weeks ago to take this flight together. They’d been so busy lately, a day spent together, even flying, would be a treat. He’d hold her hands so she wouldn’t be afraid. He’d referred to himself as her security blanket. It only took a ten-world text message this morning to yank the blanket away.
“I still think I should drive to Texas to get the puppy, rather than bringing it back on the plane,” Kate proposed once more in her struggle to stay on terra firma.
“You don’t have time. You have to be back by Tuesday to cover for my vacation. You do remember I’m taking Pete, Sarah, and little Emma to spend the rest of the month at the Cape.”
“How’d you manage to score a beach rental on Cape Cod this time of the year?”
“We’ll be using a friend’s cabin while he’s in California for his first grandchild’s birth. Imagine, three weeks on the beach, avoiding the August heat. It’s perfect. Plus, I’ll get to spend some time with my new granddaughter.”
He’s right, Kate thought. I’m a selfish bitch, and I’ve got a T-shirt to prove it, and all because I don’t want to strap on metal wings, defy gravity, and take to the sky. She would not only be depriving Sal of his first time off in a year, but also of spending time with his son, back from serving in Afghanistan, his daughter-in-law, a brand-new mother, and their three-month-old daughter. This would be their perfect vacation together.
Kate finished packing, stepping carefully around a block of guilt the size of an elephant he’d dropped right in the middle of her kitchen.
”Kate,” he began, “being afraid to fly is nothing to be ashamed of if you’ve never done it before. I was scared stiff the first time I flew.”
“Where were you going?”
The guilt in the room took on blue whale proportions. Leaning her whole weight on the suitcase, Kate managed to zip it closed and roll it over to the space by the door already holding her oversized purse, ticket, and Kindle.
She sighed at the thick belt left on the counter and began shoving it through the loops in her jeans.
“What’s the problem with the belt?”
“It’s Gram’s. I love her dearly, but there are times when she wants to wrap me in cotton wool. She insists she never traveled without a money belt filled with cash and I shouldn’t either. She doesn’t realize those little pieces of plastic do a fine job. But, if I don’t use this, she’ll know.”
“Well, I tend to agree with her. Maybe it’s my generation, but a little extra cash can’t hurt.”
Fastening the buckle, Kate reached for her phone. She picked it up to check for texts again and then set it down. The purple funk dogging her since the last text grew. Kate switched on the kettle to heat water for tea. The thought of lunch didn’t hold any appeal, but Seamus had bugged her to eat because airlines no longer fed you and to take the airsickness pills he’d left on the counter. Kate was going down for the third time, drowning in brotherly love. The tea helped her down the pills. A minute later, she jumped up and grabbed an apple off the counter, dropping it into her purse. Circling the table again, she slid into the other chair.
“Okay, I know you, girl. You’re nervous as a cat. What’s going on? As much fun as it is to tease you, this jumpiness is not a fear of flying.”
Kate stared out the window overlooking the dogs in the exercise yard, avoiding the question. She noticed each of her sweet Samoyeds had claimed his preferred shady spot and slept. Dillon, on the other hand, slept at her feet. She hated going to a strange place without him. Sal’s stare finally got to her. She needed him to laugh at her suspicions and tell her she was overreacting.
“Last night, Harry called to talk, as he does every night.” Kate smiled at the thought. “Before he hung up, he sang ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand,’ telling me he’d hold it all the way to Denver. I slept like a log, reassured he would be there. However, at ten thirty this morning, I got a text saying, Flying out of Boston. See you when I get back. H.”
“So Harry won’t be meeting you at the airport? A text you say, not a call,” he mused, a frown settling on his face. “He didn’t tell you why? It doesn’t sound like him.”
“I tried calling him when I got it, but the call went to voicemail.” Kate pulled out her phone and opened the text, holding it for Sal to see. “He signed the message, H.”
“Yeah? I would imagine Harry wouldn’t bother writing out his name.”
“Except, since February, he’s signed all his texts with F for fiancé.” She flipped though earlier texts, showing him. “Of course, something could have come up, or he could have gotten an emergency job, but it doesn’t feel right. Sal, do you have Sadie’s number?”
Kate had never spoken to the wondrous Sadie, the other love of Harry’s life. She remembered being jealous hearing about her the first time. She’d then discovered this amazing woman who managed Harry’s business was a former FBI agent and a brilliant cyber-tech plus a grandmother five times over. “Something feels off to me. For my peace of mind, I need to know I’m wrong, just bummed and frightened of flying.”
Sal pushed up the brim of his Red Sox cap and stared at her. Reaching into his back pocket, he pulled out his phone, took hers, and loaded the number. Dropping it back where she’d left it, he then reeled in his lanky timeworn six-foot-four-inch frame and pressed dial.
“Sadie, how are you doing? It’s Sal. I’m trying to get a hold of our boy, and it keeps going to voicemail. Do you know where he is? Right, they are. I must have forgotten. Yeah. No, I’ll wait and talk to him later. Thanks, Sadie.” He slowly shoved the phone back into his pocket and pulled out his keys. Then he stood.
“It’s time to hit the road, girl. You have a puppy to get.”
Dillon stood, licking Kate’s face as she hugged her new-daddy dog. Telling him she’d be bringing his kid back, Kate let him out into the yard with the others. Silently, she followed Sal out to the van. The quiet between them lasted until the turn onto I-84, heading toward Hartford.
“She’d talked to him at eight this morning, and he was all packed. He couldn’t wait to head out to meet you. She thought he might have turned off his phone so you two could have some alone time without interruption. She said she’d let him know I want him when he calls in. But she told me since you two have so little time together, not to bother you. Kate, why do you suppose he would change his mind between eight this morning and—when did you get the text?”
“Ten thirty but I’m not sure he did change his mind.” Kate stared through the windshield, her head playing with the possibilities that kept bouncing up, like a game of whack-a-mole. This early in the day, the descent through the tunnel and the climb up the flyover through Hartford moved easily. They transitioned onto I-91, heading north. Her brain tried to play hide-and-seek with possible answers but came up with zilch. “I’m worried he’s in trouble. What I want to do is drive to Boston and find him, but I haven’t any idea where he is. So I’ve got no choice but to get on a plane and fly to Denver. Sal, it’ll be late here when my flight gets in so I won’t call you, but if I don’t hear from him, I’m calling Sadie tomorrow. At least she’ll know who he’s meeting and where he’s staying. Maybe she can call those places and see if he’s there.” Kate glanced again at her phone then, sighing, jammed it into her pocket. She turned toward Sal. “I’ll be staying with Joyce Marks tonight, and traveling with her and Cathy Harrison, whose numbers are by the phone. We’re scheduled to hit the road by five tomorrow morning for the drive to Lubbock. I’ll call and let you know if I find anything out.”
“Why are these women driving you all the way to Texas on this puppy pursuit?”
“Well, Joyce is thinking about using Dillon at stud with her new champion bitch who is a half-sister of Katja, the puppies’ dam. She and Cathy, who bred Katja, already planned to go see the litter, so when she heard I’d be coming out to choose my stud puppy, she suggested I join them. Since it’s a direct flight between Hartford and Denver and I can take the puppy in the cabin as carry-on luggage, it worked out well for me. This way, I won’t have to change planes with the puppy on the way home, and it will be a much shorter flight.”
“How do you know these people?”
“Joyce is an old friend who began showing and breeding a few years after Gramps did. Cathy wanted to see what her next generation is producing. Both Joyce and Cathy are judges, as well as breeders, and have judged at the Samoyed National Specialty Show. Since this is Lily Peters’ first litter, she wanted them to use their expertise to critique the puppies. Lily’s bringing the litter up to Lubbock, a couple of hours north of her home, to make the drive shorter.”
“Shorter? What is it, about ten hours?”
“Yeah. Since Cathy and I have never met, she’s flying down to Denver from Idaho, so we can visit on the drive. She’s got a judging assignment to get to next week so she won’t have any spare time. Joyce works for the Denver sheriff’s office. She’s got to be at work on Monday and, of course, I’ve got to be back here. This way, we won’t waste time. We’ll drive down tomorrow then spend all day Saturday with the puppies. On Sunday, we’ll drive back to Denver with my stud puppy, and Cathy can make her connection home Sunday night. Then, on Monday, I’ll get my direct flight back with the puppy. Except for the flying, this trip is a ‘piece o’ cake.’”
The highway had begun to get congested with people heading north out of Hartford, homeward bound after the early shift. Kate rejoiced when they pulled onto the connecting road heading directly to Bradley International Airport. As the terminal came into view, her stomach clenched. Ready or not, she was going. With only a carry-on, she didn’t need to check luggage. Hopping out at the Southwest entrance, she waved goodbye to Sal and strode quickly through the automatic doors before she could change her mind.
Tim, her younger brother and the bigger pain in the butt of the twins, had made her put up with a gallon of mockery in exchange for guiding her through the steps to get her boarding pass online and to double check the return reservation said she’d be traveling with a puppy in the cabin. Not to be standing in the long line at the ticket counter made it worth the grief.
Turning left, Kate followed the signs to security. Automatically, she reached with her hand for the dog always at her side. She felt naked without Dillon. She put her carry-on suitcase on the conveyor then, taking one of the blue plastic bins, loaded it with shoes, phone, keys, and her purse. Kate watched it slide out of sight into the x-ray machine. Next, she stepped into the little cubicle for the TSA combination x-ray and MRI.
“You need to stand with your feet on the marks on the floor, miss, and extend your arms over your head.”
Kate heard a beep and assumed she was done, but, no, the noise indicated she had set off their alarm, labeling her a threat to the country. Except for her watch, earrings, and the ring on her finger, she had nothing metal on her. The agent waved a wand over her, front and back then between the legs and over each arm. Her watch set it off. Kate had forgotten the steel band. She’d gotten it after countless generations of Shannon Samoyeds had dined on a menu of leather bands. In the end, the TSA agent decided Kate Killoy was not a danger to her country, only stupid. Trying to hide her embarrassment, Kate slipped on her shoes and asked directions to the gate.
The flight had seemed an ideal time to be alone with Harry, the man she’d fallen in love with at first sight. Their unusual engagement remained a work in progress. However, this trip felt more like the first level of Hell, with flunking her first-ever security check qualifying as Limbo. Ten minutes later, the trip reached the second level when the announcement came that the flight, scheduled to take off in twenty minutes, remained in Baltimore, causing a delay of at least an hour.
Kate’s stomach rapidly twisted itself into a knot. If she had another hour, she should eat. Her feet instinctively took her to Dunkin’ Donuts. Five minutes later, she emerged with toasted croissants, marmalade, and cocoa—a Killoy tranquilizer. She settled into a seat near the gate’s check-in area, satisfying her now-real hunger and prepared to wait. The fact tons of people, even small children, happily waited to do the thing she most dreaded impressed her. Standing to discard the empty cup in the bin by the check-in desk, she noticed the boarding attendant, somewhat tight-lipped, being harangued by an irate would-be passenger.
“Make the page, lady,” the man snarled.
Kate moved to her seat as the attendant picked up the microphone and announced, “Would passenger Harry Foyle please report to the Southwest check-in at gate eight?”
Kate froze. Harry? Here? This guy didn’t appear to be one of Harry’s corporate clients. Turning back toward the desk as he made the woman repeat the call, she got an insane idea.
Pulling the phone from her pocket and waving it as though unable to get a signal, she snapped two photos of the man’s face. Then, casually, she returned to her seat. Before she could talk herself out of it, she sent the photos to Sadie, telling her Harry hadn’t made it. She asked whether she knew the man since he was angry and hunting Harry.
A minute later, Kate’s pocket buzzed. Reaching for the phone, she read the text from Sadie.
Don’t worry about Harry. Continue your trip. Stay away from this man. He’s dangerous.