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Lucia was ten years old. She watched her mother's coffin descend, and she turned away. When told of her mother's death two days before, she had cried. She fell asleep crying. When she awoke, her tears had not stopped. She cried until her dreams of wealth and happiness vanished into her mother's grave, but they did not die. They returned when she was twelve. Not only night time dreams, but day dreams, too. Her mother's whispers never stopped. 'Someday your ship will come, Lucia, bringing garments of silk and treasures of gold.' Lucia believed the answers to her dreams waited among the fashion stores on Michigan Avenue in Chicago; on New York's Fifth Avenue; on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills among the stars. Money satisfies all pleasures; fulfills all dreams. The dream blossomed into flower without manifestation into reality as the years passed. She lived with her father, Edmundo, in a small flat among the dregs of society in south Chicago, forever planning how to make her dreams come true. She never lost faith. Each night when she prayed, she felt her mother's presence, and she persevered.
"Father! I have a job."
"A job?" He looked puzzled. "At fifteen? What about your school?"
Lucia laughed. He never before cared about her education; never helped with her homework; never attended a parent-teacher meeting. What kind of act was this? He cared only because he claimed her as a dependent on his welfare. Beyond the basics of life—food and shelter—he provided nothing, not even love.
"It's over," she said in a happy voice. "I'm not waiting any longer for my life to begin."
He stared at her. She read the question on his face and knew he did not understand her answer.
"I found a packaging job in a grocery store."
He shrugged, picked up his newspaper and did not protest.
Lucia found a second job, clerking at night in a convenience store. Her father showed no concern that she worked eighty hours a week spread over seven days.
"I love my work, Father. It brings me money. I opened a bank account today."
He ignored her exuberance; neither praising nor condemning. She guessed he didn't want to know because her income would surely upset his welfare payments, but she could not resist dangling her success before him.
"Sitting home pretending you're an author is crazy, Father. Look at me. I'm seventeen years old. I'm making six hundred dollars a week."
"Good for you," he said, never showing his face from behind his newspaper.
She stared; her temper rose; she ripped the paper from his hands.
"You don't care do you?"
"Care about what?"
At twenty-one Lucia owned a TV, a refrigerator, a washing machine, new clothes, and rented a three-room flat, leaving her father alone to grovel in his misery. She knew few social graces and looked like a woman twice her age. She began to explore better ways to make her dreams come true. At twenty-six, she owned four convenience-store franchises. She dressed well and cared about her looks. Her manners were gracious. She overflowed with confidence. How well she remembered the Christmas party of 2002.
"Señor de La Fuentes. It is a pleasure to meet you. I am Lucia Alvarez." She curtsied in recognition of his fame. She had read about him, but now the heir to the Fuentes fortune glittered before her in true life. He wore diamond earrings, diamond studs on his brow, emerald rings on both hands, and when he turned, she noticed a diamond clasp secured his ponytail.
"Do you have one of our stores?" he asked.
"Four of them." Her smile betrayed her pride.
"Congratulations. Which are yours?"
In the following weeks, he visited twice, took her out for an expensive meal, and invited her to the Fiesta Ball. Lucia wondered if perhaps she should be more aggressive, encourage his interest. Money was her goal; he flaunted money in her face. Alas, it was not to be. After the ball, he lost interest while she pursued her ambitions in other ways.
Lucia worried. Her phenomenal merchandising success pleased her father, but her snail-pace to her dreams displeased her. She assailed Edmundo Alvarez about his work ethic, his constant plea to borrow money.
"You've lost all motivation, Father. Get a job. Stop your foolish crime-writer notion. You don't know what you're doing."
He ignored her ranting. Communications between father and daughter deteriorated. They lived apart in civil discord, each tending their own affairs. One day when pleading to borrow money, her father showed Lucia a letter from a publisher, rejecting his plots of thievery and chicanery, saying they were ridiculous to the point of absurdity. Soon after, Edmundo responded to her challenge.
"All right," he said one evening, "I'll quit writing."
Lucia smiled with the pleasure of her victory.
"What do you intend to do?"
"I choose to test my plots for the personal satisfaction of showing them not only feasible, but foolproof."
"You're mad," she said, ashamed of her father. "I never want to see you again." She left without another word.
For two years he foiled the police, leaving a trail of unsolved petty crimes. His success yielded modest tax-free income. One day he realized Lucia held the key. It was she who brought Otto de la Fuentes into their lives; a young man with untold wealth. Edmundo needed an accomplice he could trust never to divulge his plan. He called his daughter.
"Lucia, my sweet one."
"Don't sweet-one me," she said.
"Wait. I have a plan to interest you. One that will bring your ship to shore, just as your mother used to tell you."
His words were magic to her ears, irresistibly luring her to learn his meaning. The reward was too great; the enticement too strong. She could not deny her interest, but insisted he must never visit her apartment, threatening to reveal his nefarious scheme to the police if he did so.
Throughout the next year, Edmundo incubated his plan, addressing every detail, while Lucia learned the script and rehearsed her part. At last, the greatest achievement of Edmundo's career hatched. Father and daughter agreed the time to put their plan to the test had come. On the evening of the Fiesta Ball, she attended without an escort. Her new name was Marisa Callas; her mother's maiden name that she adopted despite Edmundo's objections. She moved about the grand hall, always placing herself where Otto might glimpse her.
"Señorita, will you do me the honor of this dance?"
"Señor de la Fuentes, it is my honor."
He held her in his arms as they tangoed to the seductive music. Next, came a waltz.
"But, I insist," he said.
"I told you, my name is Otto."
"Otto. Many beautiful women wait to waltz with you."
"None so beautiful as you, Marisa Callas."
He held her close. She stretched back, looked boldly into his eyes. She waited, challenging his memory. His eyes flashed interest; he did not look away. Nor did he recognize Lucia Alvarez.
Next morning, Edmundo Alvarez listened to her animated report.
"He did not recognize me, Father. I danced with him half the night, looked in his eyes, placed a kiss upon his lips, and still he did not recognize me."
Edmundo Alvarez raised his glass.
"You have done well, my sweet one."
She rose and reached for her father's hand.
"But please, Father, don't wait too long. I live in fear. I am petrified."
"Fear not. It won't be long." He threw a kiss to her retreating form, mocking her with a contemptuous sneer she did not see.
Lucia Alvarez settled into a seat in the bustling departure lounge at O'Hare Airport in Chicago. She glanced at their boarding passes; seats 22A and 22B on flight 2798 to Phoenix, departing at 3:15. Seeing her name on the ticket sent a chill down her spine; she could never deny the thrill that came to her when she saw her new name in print. Lucia Alvarez, the frump from the underbelly of Chicago, had been transfigured. She was thirty-one, five years older than the woman she portrayed. Lucia had not been a beautiful girl, although she had a full figure with shapely legs, but she was sloppy in her dress. Her face was average; eyes wide set; lips too full; and her hair, worn in pulled-back style, was drab and lifeless. A revitalizing hairdo, prolonged facial treatment, and diverse cosmetics overcame her flaws until she became an elegant woman in high society, exuding grace and charm, clad in expensive clothes and exotic jewelry.
Otto, bedecked in jewels and finery, strolled into the lounge and took the seat beside Marisa.
"I brought coffee."
He put his styrofoam cup on the floor and pulled his cell phone from his belt holder. Marisa grimaced.
"How long is this flight?" he asked.
"Three hours." She quenched her exasperation lest its trace tinge her voice. "How did you ever manage before cell phones?" she asked. She didn't wait for an answer. "Who are you calling, dear one?"
"A friend in Phoenix."
Otto twisted his back towards her, mumbling into his telephone. She wanted to put him out of her mind; her father too. Why did she ever agree? Tomorrow; no tonight, in only a few more hours it would be over. She will be free, soon to have more money than she ever imagined; free to travel; free to do what she wanted without the endless demands of hateful men. She looked about for some diversion from her morbid thoughts. A young girl, fidgeting in the opposite chair, caught her eye; ten years old, Marisa guessed. She smiled at the child as memories flooded her mind. The woman next to the girl was probably the child's mother. A smile spread across Marisa's face. The little girl and her mother, waiting for the plane, smiled back, but Marisa's thoughts had shifted to the glory of her triumph. Beside her, his back still turned, her wealthy Otto mumbled on.
"Excuse me," Otto said, "I'm going to the rest room."
As Marisa's gaze followed Otto across the lounge and into the crowded passageway, she saw Señor Lopez standing patiently near a column. He wore a broad smile, nodded to all who passed, making him conspicuous. Marisa smiled at the remarkable performance. In homburg hat, black overcoat with velvet collar, gray kid gloves, and ivory-headed cane, not even his friends would recognize Edmundo Alvarez with false goatee and black-rimmed spectacles.
Assistant Inspector Grimes conducted the investigation in a private room at the airport starting about 11:15 in the evening. Of the one hundred and sixty-two passengers aboard, seventy-seven had deplaned before the discovery of the body. The Captain refused to allow the others to debark until the police arrived. Grimes and his two assistants quickly dismissed all but two passengers when it became clear that none of them could contribute anything. He detained only one crew member.
"Well, let's start. I know you're anxious to get home." Grimes said. "You are aware I'm recording this proceeding. None of you are suspects, but you are under oath. And all of you waived your right to have a lawyer present. That correct?"
"Yes," chorused the witnesses, nodding their heads.
"Miss Pollack! Have you the names and addresses of everybody on the flight?"
"They'll be in the flight records. You can get them tomorrow."
"For the record then, these are the people present: Miss Joan Pollack, Purser, flight 2798; Passenger Ulrich Bremen, flight 2798, seat 22D; Passenger Marisa Callas, flight 2798, seat 22A; Police Sergeant David Bowes; Police Constable Pat Holladay; Assistant Inspector Howard Grimes, Chicago Homicide in charge. Okay. Miss Pollack, you start. Give us a quick rundown on flight 2798?"
Miss Pollack cleared her throat. "Well, the weather report indicated a severe storm on the plains. The sort that closes O'Hare for two or three days. Orders came down to get as many aircraft as possible out of here, and—"
"Okay," Grimes said, "we know about the weather. Get on with boarding."
"There was some confusion—"
"Confusion!" Bremen yelled. "It was more than confusion. It was mayhem"
"Mr. Bremen, you'll get your turn. Go ahead Miss Pollack. Tell us about the passengers in seats 22 A, B and C. The rest are unimportant."
"Then why am I here?" asked Bremen.
"Go on Miss Pollack," Grimes said, glaring at Bremen.
"Well, Miss Callas came first. Her seat was 22A. The man following her was 22B. I didn't think they were together. They didn't talk to each other or anything, and—"
"How do you know? You were up front. You couldn't—"
Grimes jumped to his feet.
"Mr. Bremen, I'm not going to ask you again. Sergeant! If necessary, put a muzzle on this guy."
Bremen sprang from his chair; a huge man, six feet four at least, probably close to three hundred pounds.
"Just you try, Buster." His eyes shifted from Grimes to Bowes and back.
"Okay, Bremen. Sit down so we can get on with this thing and go home. So then what happened, Miss Pollack?"
"Well, towards the end of the boarding, an elegant gentleman walked in. He was something else."
"Did he tell you his name?"
"Yes, he did. Lopez. Alfredo Lopez."
"And what was so special about him?"
Miss Pollack sighed. "Well, you know, how rude people are these days." She glanced at Mr. Bremen. "But this man was different. He bowed as if greeting the First Lady. He smiled and handed me his boarding pass like a celebrity entering a theater. I pointed out his seat and watched him walk down the aisle. He had a slight limp and used a beautiful ivory-headed cane. His clothes were elegant. He was, well, different." She sighed. "So different."
Bremen let out a roar. "Sounds like you fell in love."
Grimes ignored the comment. "Go on," he said.
"When the ground crew closed the door, I did my announcements and walked down to do my checks. You know, seat belts, tray tables and so on. I do the first third, the other girls—"
"Sure! Sure! So then what?"
"The well-dressed man in 22B was on his cell phone. That's not allowed during take-off and landing. I asked him to shut if off. We had a few words—"
"A few words," yelled Bremen. "You screamed at each other."
"Bremen! How many times have I got to ask you—Aw,never mind. Go on, Miss Pollack."
"I didn't yell at him." She glared at Bremen, her voice .raised. "I reported to the Captain who sent the Second Officer. The man still refused to shut off his phone. Suddenly, Mr. Lopez in 22C reached over, grabbed the phone and shut it off."
"Good job, too," said Bremen. "I reached over and patted Lopez on the back. 'Well done,' I said."
Grimes broke the momentary silence after making a few notations. "You're a hero all right, Mr. Bremen. Yes sir. Takes guts to do a thing like that. All right, Miss Pollack, so where are we?"
"Well, the delay over the cell phone made us late leaving the gate area. After deicing, we were eleventh in line for take off. We would have been third except for the cell phone incident."
"What difference did that make?"
"The weather closed in before we could take off. The control tower aborted all flights and we had to return to the gate. It took almost two hours with the blowing snow and so many planes on the tarmac. Finally, we returned to the gate."
"Just one more question, Miss Pollack. Before you returned, did the victim make more telephone calls."
"Yes, sir. Mr. Lopez asked permission on his behalf. He was very polite. He said the … um … victim—is that what you call Mr. Fuentes?"
"Yes. Go on."
Miss Pollack looked around the room as if she thought the deceased gentleman might be hiding somewhere. She appeared to choke on her words, then continued in a quiet stammer. "Well, Mr. Lopez said the" … she paused and swallowed, "the victim had to make an important call because of the delay. I asked the Captain. He said it was all right."
"Thank you, Miss Pollack. Okay, Mr. Bremen let's hear what you have to say."
Ulrich Bremen rose to his feet like a politician asked to explain the complexities of the Constitution. "After this Lopez guy grabs the phone, see, there's a ruckus. I mean like the guy in the middle is kind of sore, see. He grabs the phone back. So I undid my seat belt and said, 'Turn that thing on Mister, and I'm going to pound you.' He was a tall lanky guy, but he seen right away if I hit him he wasn't coming round until a week from Sunday."
"Well, Mr. Bremen, did you do that?" said Grimes. "Was it you who killed him?"
Marisa almost laughed. Bremen was a fish out of water, mouth opening and closing with nothing coming out. He managed to suck in some air.
"Me! It was Mister Lopez who done it."
"Is that so! How do you figure that?"
Bremen changed from the gasping fish to the proud peacock.
"Because he bought the dude drinks."
Grimes laughed. "So all I have to do is prove the deceased is allergic to alcohol. That right, Bremen?"
"Inspector, you're dumb." Grimes was on his feet, but Bremen never paused. "You're keeping us here and the guy who done it is probably in Vegas by now. Come on, Inspector, get on the ball."
Sergeant Bowes and Officer Holladay moved between the men.
"Make him sit down and shut up," Grimes yelled. "And remember this Bremen. If I catch you so much as spitting on the sidewalk, I'll put you away forever."
Bremen bellowed a stream of threats and cuss words as the police officers pushed him into his chair. Grimes turned back to his notes while he gathered himself.
"Okay, Miss Callas, you're at bat. Did you know the man in 22B?"
"Otto de la Fuentes."
"The convenience store people?"
Marisa Callas smiled. Her ship, bearing more wealth than she imagined possible, came into view. Soon, oh, so soon, the ordeal would end. The treasures of silk and gold would be hers at last.
"Yes. He inherited money when his parents died in an air crash a few years ago."
"Did you kill him, Miss Callas?"
Marisa's smile did not leave her face. This was the moment Edmundo had anticipated. He made her rehearse her act until she could do it in her sleep. 'The room will be silent,' Father had said. 'Pause for a count of five. Stand and look the interrogator in the eye. Let the smile fade from your lips. Speak in a loud, clear voice. Let your voice crack on the last few words, then whisper the rest, and sit. Let a tear roll down your cheek, hold your handkerchief to your eyes, put your elbows on your knees, your head in your hands, and sob gently, but audibly.' She had practiced it at least a hundred times.
"Mr. Grimes. I started working for the Fuentes when I was fifteen. My mother was dead; my father unemployed on welfare. We lived in the slums in a wretched hovel. I had only shabby clothes to wear when I went to Otto de la Fuentes' father. He was kind. He gave me work. After a few years, he made it possible for me to own a franchise despite my poverty. He took me from the gutter and made me what I am today. Later, when I met his son—the man murdered on the plane this afternoon—we fell in love. Is this the way ... " She hesitated and put her handkerchief to her eyes. "… Is this the way, Mr. Grimes, I express my gratitude."
Her voice trailed, she could scarcely be heard for that was the end of the rehearsed speech and her chance had arrived. She continued with words Father had never imagined. She stood, looked into the police inspector's eyes, and spoke with melancholy dripping from every word.
"Do you think a suitable expression of my gratitude, Mr. Grimes, would be to kill my husband?" She sat and sobbed.
Miss Pollack rushed to her side.
"Mr. Grimes! How could you?"
Marisa kept her head down, her face covered, her eyes closed. Lucia erased the image of her mother. She dared not let her mind dwell on treasures so long coveted. 'Discipline,' Father had said. 'You must control yourself.' So close now—her ship so close—she must not spoil the act.
"Well," Grimes paused for a moment. Even Mr. Bremen seemed subdued. "Yeah. Tell me about the well-dressed Mr. Lopez."
"He was a lulu all right," said Bremen.
Grimes was on his feet. "I didn't ask you," he said. "What happened to the guy? When did he get off? Where'd he go?"
Grimes broke the silence. "Miss Callas! Did you know this gentleman?"
Marisa kept her head down. "No," she whispered. "Never saw him in my life before."
"What did you say? The recorder didn't catch that. Say it again."
Miss Pollack spoke up. "She said she'd never seen him before."
"I want her to say it so it'll be on the tape."
Miss Pollack knelt beside Marisa. "Honey. You're going to have to answer again. Try honey; try hard." She tugged gently on Marisa's arm, pulling her to her feet.
Slowly Marisa removed the handkerchief, revealing a distorted face beneath her smeared make-up. Her voice cracked. "I never saw the man who sat in seat 22C in my life before." She staggered sideways. Miss Pollack caught her and steered her to a chair.
"H'mmm," mumbled Grimes. "Anybody else want to say anything?"
"Yeah" Bremen said. "Let's get out of here."
Miss Pollack rose behind Marisa Callas. She clutched the back of the chair with a trembling hand. All eyes turned to her.
"Something on your mind, Miss Pollack?"
"I guess I need to say something. Ah! You see, when Mr. Lopez boarded the plane, he asked me if he could deplane as soon as we landed. But when we never left, he told me the delay created a serious problem, and I arranged for him to be among the first to deplane." She wiped her eyes. "I'm sorry."
Grimes scratched his chin. "Pretty smart, this Mr. Lopez. I guess he knew what he was doing. We'll find him." His eyes roamed the room. Nobody moved. "Okay. Pat, shut off the recorder."
"All right. We'll have to wait for the coroner to tell us how Mr. Fuentes died. None of you leave town. And if you see Mr. Lopez around, give me a call. You're free to go."
Miss Pollack walked Marisa down the corridor towards the ladies room. "That was dreadful. I'm so sorry about your husband." She hesitated for a moment, a curious expression clouded her face. "May I ask you a question?"
Lucia, leaning on Miss Pollack's arm as if she might collapse at any moment, mumbled her reply. "Yes, of course."
"Why do you use the name Marisa Callas when you are Señora de la Fuentes?"
Lucia almost panicked. She'd made a mistake, a terrible mistake. She should never have removed her gloves; she wore no wedding band. She staggered. Trying to recover, Lucia shrugged and walked past Miss Pollack into the ladies room. "Otto insisted. It was a business decision." She smiled and offered her hand. "Thank you. You've been very kind. You go along. I'll be fine."
Miss Pollack stepped back, dismay in her face. "But ... ."
Marisa realized Miss Pollack construed Lucia's remark as a brush off. She hugged Miss Pollack, stepped back and sought to show a weak, pathetic smile. "Thank you, again. I mean, I'm sure you're tired after such an ordeal. I'll be sure to tell the airline of your kindness and courtesy." She gripped Miss Pollack's hand, caressing it warmly. "You go along now. I'll be fine."
Marisa watched Miss Pollack leave. She entered a stall and removed her overcoat and smiled. Lucia Alvarez had done it. She recalled moments of terror when she feared she might lose her nerve. It was over now and she laughed at Father's foolish plan. 'Take the damp face-wipes from your kit,' Father had said, 'and remove your makeup. Brush your hair back to your old style and put on your stocking hat. Take off your jewelry. Reverse your overcoat. Then drab and lifeless Lucia Alvarez exits from the ladies room and just like Alfredo Lopez, she is no more.'
How foolish. Little wonder the publisher refused his work. He thinks he's a genius and covets the proceeds while she was forced to play the part for months. He doesn't know how difficult it's been to sacrifice herself for the pleasure of that villain. It was a trial for her. For him it was a game. With nothing to hide, she left the stall, repaired her makeup, arranged her jewelry and put on her overcoat. The elegant Marisa De La Fuentes, nee Lucia Alvarez, left the ladies room and looked for a telephone.
Edmundo Alvarez, waiting impatiently, answered on the first ring.
He laughed. "How did it go, Lucia?"
"You did not hear me. This is Marisa speaking."
His laugh echoed with a maniacal sound of triumph. "Well done. Tell me how it went."
In the pause before she dashed his celebration, she imaged him posing as the master of his universe, oblivious to his own psychopathic absurdity.
"It went very well. Exactly as you planned."
"Wonderful! Come visit my apartment so you can tell me about it."
She heard his sigh of relief. The insurance company had asked interminable questions, but Mr. Lopez answered every one, assuring Lucia he had a vested interest in Otto de la Fuentes' life.
"No, I'm not coming," she said as if her response was of little consequence.
She relished the sound of alarm in his voice. He had often gloated with anticipatory glee; collect the million-dollar policy and welcome to the world of idle living.
"Is something wrong?"
"Did I forget to tell you? I'm sorry, Father. I never thought to let you know. Perhaps because Otto swept me off my feet. We married six months ago. My married name is Marisa de la Fuentes, his wife and only heir. The estate and all that goes with it is mine. Oh! Before I forget, your insurance company called Señora Fuentes a few weeks ago to verify the details on your application. I couldn't be untruthful, could I?"
She heard his gasp. His voice grew shrill. "You can't do that to me. I'll expose you. I'll—"
She smiled, savoring the sounds of his agony for a few seconds. "Be reasonable, Father, please. When Grimes gets the coroner's report and finds out how you killed Otto; when he hears from the insurance company that you're a fraud, don't worry, he'll come looking for you. When he can't find you, he's bound to ask me if I've seen you anywhere. Guess what I'll tell him."
She paused and listened to the heavy breathing for only a moment, then called forth her softest, sweetest voice.
"Adios, Señor Lopez."