Detour Paris is the first book of the three-part Detour Paris series (adult).
After a “love-at-first-sight” encounter with the enchanting Monica Reyes while on an international getaway with his flight attendant girlfriend, Tucker Blue, a newly-minted, mid-life bachelor and serial-dater, faces a dilemma. Fortunately for the hapless Tucker, the sky gods take pity, and the overbooked plane flies off, taking Tucker’s dilemma with it.
Tucker sees the opportunity before him as a gift and reasoning that only a non-believer or deviant would ignore such a gift, he appeals to Monica’s sense of adventure and, implicitly, her appetite for a rendez-vous romantique, by suggesting a detour – riding the rails through the countryside of France, first-class of course.
Monica, who appears every bit as smitten as Tucker accepts and the two embark on a journey of planes, trains and automobiles that not only burns up the rails all the way through France to the Pyrenees but proves to be an adventure that neither of them would have imagined in their wildest dreams.
It’s a Detour that will change their lives.
At 7:15 PM, on Saturday, August 30th, I was kidnapped. It wasn’t voluntary. I guess if it had been you couldn’t call it a kidnapping. No, it wasn’t voluntary. At least at first, it wasn’t.
I was minding my own business when I came upon these two lush green pools, a green so rich and deep like I’d never seen before or, maybe they came upon me. Doesn’t matter. Thing is, I fell in. Didn’t mean to fall in; just did. Like I said, it wasn’t a voluntary thing, but once in, I stayed. Not only stayed, I swam around; splashed, did somersaults, played Marco Polo. I dove for the bottom several times, each time deeper, like a pearl diver, until I could no longer hold my breath. Never did find bottom, so I floated. Put on my Ray-Bans, laced my fingers behind my head and just kicked back and floated on those fathomless pools of liquid under the fiery rays of a angry sun. My world had reduced to just two colors – green and red, the only two colors that mattered. Green, red, green, red – a traffic light without caution because with a woman like this, there is no caution. It’s stop or go, your choice. Either you’re in or you’re out.
Now I’m no neophyte when it comes to life and all its trials and tribulations. I’ve not only been around the block more than once; I’ve been kicked around the block, a couple of times. Been married more than once, raised children, more than one. Even created businesses. Destroyed ‘em too. You might say I’ve seen it all, and had you asked me even yesterday, if I believed in love at first sight I would’ve told you, of course, but those are miracles reserved for the young – those naive little creatures still virtuous and deserving of such wonders.
So, is it possible that someone like me – someone cynical, jaundiced and thoroughly jaded – could be so utterly mugged by that sneak thief, love? My pre-smitten self would’ve said, out of the question, a thoroughly ridiculous idea. But ask me now and I’ll admit that as totally cliché, and stupidly impulsive as it no doubt is – yes, I am at this moment happily plummeting those verdant pools of promise.
I have been kidnapped and please do not post a ransom.
20:15 Hours, Saturday, 30 August.
JFK International Airport, New York.
As we’re introduced, and my hand presses into hers I want to tell her to keep it as a small token of my. . .well, you get the idea.
“Look, she got him, stunned in her headlights,” Terry said and that was all it took for my flight attendant girlfriend, Ebba, to launch her Aerosoles into my shin.
“Ouch! Sorry,” I say, reluctantly breaking my grip with those emerald greens holding me hostage but now stepping away with a mischievous smile playing over her face that she got me busted.
I cough a grin into my fist and judiciously turn my undying attention toward the woman I signed up to be with on this trip.
That was in the waiting area of gate E-08 prior to departure on American Airlines flight AA-114 to Barcelona. Ebba and Terry were working the flight, Monica, (my now soon-to-be bride), and me riding their companion passes.
As the two of them split off for crew boarding, Terry giggling and explaining how her girlfriend has this effect on men, blah, blah, all the while Ebba’s throwing daggers over her shoulder at me even though Monica’s already evacuated to the far end of the waiting area.
To allay her concerns I remain dutifully anchored in place blowing air kisses until she and her jealous insecurities disappear into the Jetway leaving me confounded with this dating dilemma about changing horses in midstream.
But surely love trumps all, doesn’t it, I ask myself? Yes, even to the clouds. Wherever it tells you to go. Where’d I hear that? Oh yeah, Urinetown, the musical!
And if you don’t believe me just ask the kryptonite peepers at the other end of the waiting area standing there, ready to suck my heart out like marrow from a bone.
“I was beginning to wonder if you were going to come over and talk to me, or just leave me here in doubt,” she says, lacing in a little pouty to shame me that I’d ignored her.
You’d think I’d know better. Beautiful women working men’s egos like Play-dough. Am I immune? No. She’s got me and she knows it. Hell, I know it and she knows I know it. And for the next forty-five minutes, (that fly by in five), we lose ourselves in each other’s company, sharing everything but spit, while, one by one, the paying passengers disappear into the maw of the Jetway until only five anxious, but ever-hopeful, standbys remain in the lottery for those last unfilled seats in business-class.
And what did we talk about? You could’ve taken out my brain and pried open my memory banks and all you’d’ve found would’ve been empty accounts. We talked about everything and nothing I was so lost in the Nitrox depths of those verdant pools of pleasure. Even when B-L-U-E rolled across the monitors clearing standbys, I still couldn’t extricate myself from her gravitational pull.
“Go, go,” she insisted, “I’ll meet you on board, and if we’re not seated together maybe we can persuade our neighbors to switch.”
So I go. Grudgingly.
“Congratulations, Mr. Blue, you made it,” would’ve normally been welcomed words from the gate agent any other time, but with Monica’s chances still in doubt they rang as hollow as a politician’s promise.
“Thank you, Marci,” I say stealing a quick glance at her name tag, “say, you think you could pull a few strings so the lady over there makes it aboard too?” (When you’re flying the friendly skies on standby, it’s right here, with the gate agents, where the power lies. Trust me. This is bona fide insider knowledge. The gate agents own this velvet rope; so don’t even think about crossin’ ’em. Just be pleasant and show lots of appreciation.)
But, all Marci gave up was a well-trained smile, and since I’d already spent most of my charm with Monica, I didn’t push it for fear that Marci just might not punch her ticket on purpose, knowing I’m riding Ebba’s companion pass. Women do that you know. Work the little things.
So here I am dragging my feet down the Jetway, mulling over the idea of jumping ship should Monica not make the cut and at the same time wondering just how I’m going to do that without putting my life in mortal danger with Ebba. Somehow I’ve got to find a way out of this dilemma without spilling blood. Mine preferably.
And just as I’m grappling with the intricacies of exactly how to pull this off, I come to the end of the Jetway where God Almighty himself, the infinite jokester stirring the pot, has strategically placed one gorgeous prize at entry door number one. It’s the same exquisite brunette that’d caught my eye earlier in the company of two other flight attendants during crew boarding. Not a chance I’d forget her and even less after she’d thrown me that fetching smile. Now here she is – Nanette, her nametag reads – greeting me like she’d had this rendezvous planned all along.
“So glad to see you made it Mr. Blue. We’ve been expecting you. May I take your coat?”
And as any bewitched man would, I hand it over like an offering to Aphrodite. She takes it, retrieves a hanger from the small closet behind her, and, without diverting her chocolate brown eyes from mine, shoves the garment into the already overstuffed cupboard.
What’s happening today? Am I exuding some sort of I’m not available pheromones making her want me more because she knows I’m with Ebba?
“It’ll be right here when we arrive in Barcelona.”
I want to tell her to keep it as a gift but my mouth has deserted me and refuses to obey any commands that don’t come directly from her.
Leaning into me as close as a whisper and with one slender finger, she turns my face like a puppet on a string, and says, “Your seat is there, halfway down the second aisle.”
“Yes,” I say suppressing the urge to add Madame and slither on my belly like a reptile to keep her attention.
“Would you like for me to bring you a drink? Single malt over rocks with a splash maybe?”
“Why that’d be. . .How’d you. . .”
“This is first-class, Mr. Blue. We’re here to please,” she says, her words licking me like opiate.
“And I am sure you will. Heck, I’m ready to fill out my customer satisfaction survey right now.”
She laughs then leaning into my ear whispers, “But you haven’t even been serviced yet.”
“Uh, right,” I stammer and begin to stumble my way over to aisle two, thinking that this is all just to weird not to be some alternate reality. I mean come on. First, there’s Monica, who’s got me making wedding plans before I even know her name, then five minutes later I’m intercepted by this Nanette creature who scares the hell out of me but also has me thinking of turning Mormon for the sake of bigamy.
To my new window-seat neighbor I offer up a smile and a nod hello then go about shoving my bags into the overhead before dropping my six-foot, one-eighty-pound load into a recliner big enough to stow away a family of small-boned Asians. Then just as I’m thinking over how much I love flying first-class the beautiful Nanette is leaning into my intimate space purring, “Here, Tucker, this should help you relax while we get underway,” handing me an amber-laden crystal tumbler.
“How’d you know my name?” I say.
“Ebba of course. We’ve all been anxiously awaiting for you to board.”
Anxiously? Jesus. Should I be concerned? Maybe I’m a bit out numbered here.
“Oh. Well, thank you. Nanette,” I say turning to face her and nearly flinching that she’s hovering only a kiss away. And wouldn’t you know it, just as I’m about to give in she draws back the tease and gives my arm a little squeeze instead.
“Gotta run sugar, but I’ll catch you later, okay?”
In a swirl she vanishes, her scent the only evidence remaining and I inhale it deeply and chase her with a draw on my Glenfiddich and happily surrender to the glove leather surrounding me. I tell my mind to forget the futility of trying to understand women even though it’s a nearly impossible temptation to resist. Just ask Adam. Like a half-asleep child pushed along by his parents to bed, my mind begins slipping between the crisp clean bed sheets of tranquility, and I think, if this is how death feels, I’ll take it.
But I can’t, because just as I’m approaching that familiar crossroad where serenity intersects with harmony, a paw clamps onto my arm and a maw assaults my ear with, “you gotta get off the plane, Tucker. Someone’s shown up with a higher-priority pass than yours, and they’re taking your seat.”
“What?” I needlessly ask, knowing exactly what I heard the first time but having to ask just the same because it was too stupid a thing not to.
“I’m sorry, Tucker, but someone’s shown up with a pass that trumps yours, and you have to give up your seat,” says Ebba.
“You gotta be kidding.”
“No, I’m not. It happens. I’ve told you before, it’s the downside of traveling on a companion pass. There are priority levels. You have an S-2, but she’s holding an S-1, so you get bumped.” And with every word, the cabin pressure increases and we’re not even off the ground.
“So, bump somebody else,” I say, my temperature rising.
“You’re the lowest standby in business.”
“Great. So, what am I supposed to do?”
“You can catch an Air France flight to Paris and make a connection there to Barcelona.”
“I can’t believe this.”
“Just do it, Tucker and please don’t make a scene,” she says.
“Okay fine,” I say getting up, fuming all the while I’m pulling my bags from the overhead.
Standing in the doorway with a sad smile on her pretty face is Nanette to send me off.
“I’m really sorry about this, Tucker, but you can still make it,” she says a bit conspiratorial. “Just go to the Air France desk and see if you can’t get on their next flight to Paris. Then get a connection to Barcelona. Really, Tucker. Do it, and I’ll see you in Barcelona.”
That takes me aback, and I notice Ebba flinching too.
“Yeah,” is all I can summon?
“Oh,” she says laying her hand on my arm, “Monica, Terry’s friend? She didn’t make it either.” Turning to Ebba, she says, “I thought I noticed you introducing Tucker to Terry and Monica.”
Ebba turns to me, “You remember, the other FA (flight attendant) and her companion?”
“Sure, I remember.” How could I forget?
“Find Monica, Tucker, she knows the ropes. She’s probably at the Air France counter right now,” Nanette says.
“Or, the nearest bar,” quips Ebba while pushing me out the door. “See you in Barcelona, Tucker,” she says aloud, then grabbing my arm and pulling me back she threatens, “you stay away Monica, Tucker. You hear?” Then turns back into the plane to stand next to the captain who has now appeared and is giving me a small wave good-bye with a smile on his face.
“We’ll save a seat for you on the return,” he says with a thumbs up.
“Let’s see if I get there first,” I say over my shoulder, glancing at Ebba sullenly.
Walking back through the Jetway I pass the woman who’d just hijacked my seat and give her my, I’m not a happy camper look, but on second thought, “A hundred dollars for your seat?”
“Sorry, I’m going to my mother’s funeral.”
Ouch. “Oh. . .sorry.”
That’s the way it is with these companion tickets. I don’t know if every employee of the airline is eligible, but those who are, get a certain number of passes each year. You might get five with S-1 priorities (the highest), eight S-2’s (next highest) and so forth on down the line. The idea is to use the lower-priority passes for those flights you’re pretty sure will have available seating and save the higher-priority passes for flights that you know will be tight – the more popular destinations, like Barcelona. Even still, it’s a gamble because you never know for sure how a flight might turn out until the last minute. Revise that. Until the plane’s in the air. Ebba gambled that an S-2 would get me onto this flight, and while it did put me ahead of Monica and others holding lower priorities, it couldn’t beat out the last-minute S-1.
So, now I’m back where I started – standing at an empty Gate E-08 watching my fourteen-day getaway to Barcelona get away without me.
09:33 Hours, Monday, 1 September.
Arrival Carcassonne, France
Text Message: Subject Paulo Marti boarded train at Carcassonne 11:41 in route to final destination, Barcelona. Subject traveling alone, photo attached.
After reading the text message from Jacques the Raven pulls up the attached photo, studies it and smiles to herself.
“This is it,” she calls to the boys, “take a good look, and burn this man’s face into your puny little minds. Now find him and herd him this way. Tiber you start from that end of the train and Drusus; you start from the other. We’ll meet in the middle and force him into our compartment.”
“Why are we doing this again, Mama?” asks Tiber.
“I’ll tell you once we have him in the compartment, and I expect to have him in there before we reach Narbonne, understand?”
“Yes, Mama,” the boys say in unison, and they leave in search of Paulo Marti while the Raven moves to the next car where their compartment is located. On the way, passing between cars, she comes upon a man standing on the platform smoking a cigarette. Without so much as a howdy-do, she catches him by surprise and pushes him off the train. His head smashes onto a railroad tie, and he expires somewhere between Carcassonne and Narbonne. Smiling to herself for that little relief of tension that’s been building up, she walks into the next car until she reaches the compartment and takes a seat outside to wait for Paulo Marti.
Marti’s standing at the rear of the car reading a newspaper when Tiber spots him. He pulls his cell phone from his pocket and dials Drusus.
“Got him. Will be walking him your way momentarily.”
Marti watches Tiber approaching out of the corner of his eye and signals Rakim, who is standing at the opposite end. Rakim raises his camera and snaps off a couple of shots as Tiber and Marti make friendly eye contact. Tiber then turns, and standing behind Marti, presses a pistol into the man’s back, whispering, “walk to the other end, quietly, and you’ll live.” Marti folds the newspaper and walks with Tiber attached to his back. When they pass Rakim, the cameraman falls in a few steps behind. The train has now come to a stop at the Narbonne station, and passengers, departing and arriving, are crowding the aisles slowing their progress.
When the aisles begin to clear they pick up the pace, and before long they’ve made it through three cars. When they have the Raven within sight, without warning, the train lurches forward bringing yelps and cries as some people who are standing fall into the nearest seats and in some cases on top of each other. Marti is thrown backwards into Tiber, pressing him into the car’s rear door. But Tiber grabs Marti and shoves his pistol into the man’s back. “Keep steady,” he says. When Marti finds his footing and the train settles; Tiber nudges him forward again.
Meanwhile, the Raven has climbed onto a seat and is holding fast to the overhead rack, as though she’s putting luggage away. When Marti and Tiber come even with her, Tiber pulls Marti to a stop, and the Raven turns with a coat in hand, and as if losing her balance, grabs Marti by the shoulders to catch herself and with sleight of hand stabs him in the neck with a hypodermic needle. He yelps shrugging the Raven off and staggers down the car’s aisle holding the newspaper in one hand and pulling the back of his neck with his other.
When the train lurches a second-time Marti loses his balance and crashes through the door of a private compartment. The last thing he sees, as his legs are turning to rope, is a naked woman sprawled across the compartment’s floor. His mind screams MOVE but his tongue does not obey, and he drops on top of her as if someone has pulled his legs out from under him. He never felt the fall, but he clearly heard the oof of breath leaving the woman’s lungs.