27.3.09

Airborne

The advantage to booking a last minute flight to Hawaii is that sometimes, the only available option is first class. This is also the greatest disadvantage, since the ticket price ain't pretty. But there I was, parked in seat 1B on Hawaiian Airlines with Jason fast asleep in the purple leather seat next to me. When I told him I had to fly to Maui, there was no way he would allow me to go without him. It was his favorite place on Earth. Also, I can't sleep for crap if I'm in a bed by myself. I'm a miserable bastard, as many a book tour had already proven.

Having him along was both a comfort and a worry, though. On one hand, he provided me with a bit of cover in case, god forbid, people were in fact looking for me. But he could just as easily prove to be a liability in such a situation, so I knew it was important to be honest with him about what was going on. I hadn't gone so far as to show Jason what lay inside the box, but he had enough information to know it was significant. He knew it was a good story in the making.

My last book, Painting Death, had been quite the page burner with the Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Steampunk set. Jason was the one who had actually given me the idea for the central character, a guy who was equal parts Doctor Who, The Vampire Lestat and Andy Warhol. Who wouldn't love a time traveling vampire with a talent for painting people's futures and a taste for men ? The book before that, Unseen Earth, was far darker, though: A Neil Gaiman-inspired affair with alternate realities and creepy creatures that weren't quite human. They did rather inhuman things to each other, most of which gave me nightmares during its conception.

Compared to these types of stories, this new adventure I was on had him bored. "Ooooh, a box," he had said when I showed it too him a week ago. "Maybe we should just hit up the Antiques Roadshow and be done with it."

"That's probably not a good idea," I had replied. "Look at the etchings on it."

Jason examined the box somewhat carefully, as I expected he would. My man was no dummy. "This isn't just art, it looks like it could be language. Like Sanskrit, except that's not what this is."

"That was my first impression as well. But I have no idea what language it is, which is why I have to find the professor."

Jason raised an eyebrow. "You do know how corny you sound, right? And is it just me, or does this thing feel really light? Like it's made of aluminum or something. But this looks way too old to be made of some fancy alloy." He tossed it back to me without even attempting to open it. "It's starting to weird me out."

Looking at him now, passed out with the help of a valium, I was beginning to feel weird about the box as well. The key inside made no sense to me yet, though I had played with it many times since first seeing it. I would sit at my desk and roll the disc in my hands, as if it were a coin I couldn't decide what to spend on. And the oddest part was that outside of the box, the key was remarkably heavy for something as wide as a half-dollar and as thin as a dime.

We were due to land at 9:00 p.m. Honlolulu time, which was still a good two hours away. We wouldn't be in Maui until 11, but professor Diessen had promised we would be met at the gate by his assistant, Morgan. He had given me a remarkably precise description of her and instructed me to talk to nobody else. Paranoid much?

I looked around the first class cabin. Everyone was preoccupied with either their personal movie players or a cocktail or a book. the flight attendants were just within sight in front of us, talking in hushed voices about who was being a jerk. One of them saw me watching and smiled. "Don't worry," he said with a wink. "We like you two. Nicest guys we've had in first all month."

I smiled back at him. He obviously played for our team, and all I could think was that sometimes it pays to be fey. You never know when a sister will decide whether your experience is going to be good or god-awful. Shameless self-promoting whore that I was, I pulled out a copy of Painting Death and motioned for him to take it. "You guys work way harder than I do. Maybe you'll find this an enjoyable diversion."

He looked at the book. "Did you write this?"

There was no reason to be modest now. "Yeah."

"Thanks, but I've already got a copy." He passed it to one of the other flight attendants, saying "you will not be able to put this down." Looking back at me, he said, "I actually have all of your books. So is this trip business or pleasure?"

"Research, I think. I guess I won't know till the trip is over. Either way, I'm expensing it."

"How long are you two visiting?"

"Honestly, I don't know. This was kind of a last-minute thing and all I really know is that we're headed to Maui to do a bit of digging around." That seemed vague enough.

He scribbled something on a napkin. "Well here's my phone number. My name's Spence. I'm not trying to come on to you or anything, but if you need any advice about the islands, let me know. When you guys fly back to L.A. I'll make sure they take good care of you."

I pocketed the napkin, not sure what help I'd need but happy to know there might be a local Phone-A-Friend that I could tap into if necessary. "Thanks."

Spence stood up. "Don't mention it. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to hand out hot towels to a bunch of assholes." He smiled as he turned towards the depths of the galley.

Jason stirred next to me, grabbing my right hand and pulling it into his. I stared out the window at the darkness of the Pacific, anxious to be on the ground and hunting for some answers.

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