15.7.09

Morgan Lafayette

Even at 11:00 at night, Kahului Airport was pleasant and almost balmy. And this was the middle of February, where back at home it would easily be a cool 50 degrees. I stared up at the dark wooden support beams as we made our way through the terminal towards baggage claim. The place reminded me more of a lodge in Yosemite than a place to move on from. There was nobody in sight aside from the people coming off our flight and the nighttime cleaning crew. We must have caught the last plane to the island.

As soon as we walked through the security checkpoint area, I saw her. She was taller than I expected, but Diessen had said it was her face that I would recognize: Eyes as blue as tidy bowl and auburn, shoulder-length hair that framed the rather sharp lines of her face in graceful fashion. We made our way over to her and I introduced myself.

"Good evening, Mr. Sullivan," she said in a light Scottish voice. "I'm Morgan Lafayette, Professor Diessen's girl Friday." She smiled and gestured to the carousels in front of us. "Did you check any luggage, or can we be on our way?"

"No luggage," I replied. "We packed light to be on the safe side."

Morgan cocked her head and winked at me. "That was probably a wise decision. I have a car in the lot across from here. Follow me."

As we moved outside and past the swaying palms on the pickup island, I couldn't resist asking her what she had meant by 'girl Friday.' "I suspect that you're no average UCLA student."

"Oh, I'm not in bed with him or anything," she answered, "But you'd be right about not being average. I go well above and beyond the normal duties of a TA. He sure knows how to make you earn your Masters."

"How long have you been working with him here in the States?"

"About two years after doing time at Oxford. I took a vacation from school to do a bit of advanced studies of my own." She stopped at a black Jeep Cherokee and gestured for us to get in. "It's a bit of a bumpier ride than, say, a Chevy Cobalt from the rental stalls, but that's probably why I like driving it."

"You'll get no complaints from me," I said, offering the front seat to Jason. He shook his head and hopped into the back.

"You two will want to talk," he said as he opened the passenger door and slipped into the back. "I just want to crawl out of this valium hangover." I climbed into the front seat and tossed my bag next to Jason while Morgan started up the jeep.

"Oh I can fix that," Morgan said as she pulled a flask out of her jacket. "A dose of Scotch should do the trick, but I wouldn't take more than one swig if you want to avoid making things worse."

Jason nodded and took a small glug from the flask. I looked at Morgan and asked where it came from. As we drove out of the airport, she gave me a brief rundown on her family's distillery in the Islay region, the name of which I actually recognized from my visits to the local LiquorLand. It wasn't difficult for her to ensure that ample supplies of the family's best 15-year variety were always at her disposal.

"Professor Diessen considers it a perk of my decision to work with him," she laughed. "He doesn't know that I've been billing all of the shipping and excise taxes to the department under the guise of 'educational supplies,' though I doubt he'd mind."

"So where are we headed," I asked as she pulled onto the Hana Highway. "Has your group sequestered the floor of a nearby Hyatt?"

"Actually, no," Morgan replied. "The professor has rented a house about halfway up Haleakala Crater in Keokea. There aren't too many of us out for this particular trip and he finds the setting more comfortable. Security is a little easier, too."

"What kind of security are we talking about here?"

Morgan eyed me briefly before turning her attention back to the road. "Let's just say he's a little worried that he... and you, actually, are being paid undue attention. I don't have much in the way of details."

I got the distinct feeling that she wasn't telling the whole truth, but I knew pressing the matter would get me nowhere until we trusted each other more than we did right now. I looked back at Jason to find that the scotch was doing the trick. He was now wide awake and staring out the window into the darkness.

"We want to retire in Keokea one day," he said. "It's got great views of the island."

"That it does," replied Morgan. "That it does."


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