from London to New York was 160 miles from Heathrow when it leveled
off at its cruising altitude of 34,000 feet.
In Row 22, Seat B, a tanned, young man in his early 20s, wearing
blue jeans and a clean but wrinkled white button-down shirt, leaned
forward and withdrew a thin, leather-bound book from the knapsack
at his feet. Straightening up, he opened the book to the middle,
spread it wide, and shook it slightly, causing a slender pen to
slip out of the spine, followed by a photo that had been tucked
between the pages.
He picked up the photo and regarded it for several minutes, then
pulled down the tray in front of him and carefully placed the picture
along the right side. Reopening the book, he flipped through its
pages until he reached the back where, on the first blank page,
he wrote the day's date and, beneath it, "Somewhere Over the
Atlantic." On the next line, he began writing in the small,
firm script that had already filled the journal's first 120 pages.
In Row 22, Seat A, Brian Allbeck sighed and closed the paperback
book he'd bought from the news agent at the airport. In the first
34 pages, the suspense thriller had offered one detailed sex scene,
two gruesome murders, and absolute proof that its plot was stolen
from another book. Only Shakespeare could get away with doing that,
Allbeck thought, depositing the paperback into the seat pocket before
Six-foot-two, lean and fit, Allbeck had turned 60 the week before,
an occasion that his wife insisted upon celebrating with "a
small soirée," as she termed it, which meant 200 people
at a catered cocktail party he could not avoid. Possessed of the
talent but not the taste for society, Allbeck was handsome in a
weathered, craggy way that implied he knew a rougher side of life,
an impression that contributed to his dominating presence and, he
knew, helped immeasurably in business. His full head of white hair,
combed straight back, added to his leonine looks and contrasted
sharply with the well-tailored, blue pinstripe suit.
Allbeck was aware that he looked rather grand for coach class, but
this morning's "quick meeting" with his team of solicitors
had turned into a three-hour strategy session after the firm's latest
takeover target, a family-controlled French textile business, announced
its plan to fight him in the courts. By the time Allbeck arrived
at Heathrow, his scheduled flight had departed. The only available
seat on the next New York-bound airliner was 22A, and he was glad
to have it.
As Allbeck glanced out the oval window next to him, his right hand
spun the wedding band on his left ring finger. The stunning vista
of white clouds and blue sky held no appeal, because in the past
10 days, he'd done enough high-altitude sightseeing on flights to
Munich, Milan, and Barcelona. Resigning himself to a sooner-than-expected
start on the files in his briefcase, he turned to his seatmate to
gain access to the overhead storage bin when the photo on the tray
caught his eye.
The picture showed an extraordinarily beautiful woman looking over
her shoulder at the camera. She had reddish-brown hair and large
brown eyes that possessed both an uncomplicated friendliness and
a welcoming sexuality. Trying not to be obvious, Allbeck craned
his neck slightly to get a better angle.
Without looking directly at the young man, Allbeck noted the clean-shaven
face and combed, sun-bleached hair. An upper-class American, he
was sure, and judging from the speed and intensity of the writing,
one of the high-energy, highly organized, very ambitious types -
a description, Allbeck realized, that would have fit himself perfectly
at the same age.
Bored enough to be uncharacteristically intrusive, he cleared his
throat and said, "She is a very pretty woman."
The young man looked up with the quick, easy smile that is so distinctively
American. Then he followed the older man's eyes to the photo. "She
is beautiful, isn't she? And she's even better-looking than that.
I'm a lousy photographer."
"If you don't mind my asking, how old is she?"
"No," the young man grinned, "and she won't be unless
the fashion world moves from Paris and New York to the Yorkshire
Dales. She's a Yorkshire girl who's never been to London and hasn't
any interest in going there either."
"You're joking," Allbeck replied.
"It's absolutely true. Two men who've known her all her life
vouched for it."
"I take it that you just met her?"
"Right, eight days ago."
"And I hope that you spent every day since then with her."
"No, actually, I didn't. I had a schedule to keep."
(End of excerpt)