The flight 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 him.

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?"

"Twenty-one."

"A model?"

"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)