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Sky Heist: Flash Fiction
New York City
Rance stood on the ship’s terrace after exiting the loading queue and observed the elliptical air-ferry. They called her The Drake, after Sir Francis Drake, second person to circumnavigate the globe.
Rance found his room and proceeded to the lounge for a presentation on the mid twenty-first century fleet of hydrogen airships. He sipped club soda at the bar.
“Excuse me, are these seats taken?”
“I don’t believe so.” Rance stood. Two attractive women sat down.
“Elizabeth Hampton.” The redhead extended her hand. “This is my mom, Francine.” The older woman nodded.
“Rance Fowler.” He shook hands with each woman. “Are you here for the presentation or refreshments?”
“Both. Mom’s obsessed with the air-ferries, but I need a drink before we dangle over the Atlantic for four days.”
After the presentation, Rance accompanied the women toward the passenger rooms. “Would you join me for dinner? I hear the blackened grouper is good.”
“I’d love to,” said Elizabeth. “Mom?”
“You go. I’ll order room service. I have things to attend to before bedtime.”
Airship-Ferry in the Story
Rance and Elizabeth met outside the lounge and walked around the ship. Golden shimmers laced the water as the sun dipped below the liquid horizon.
They turned from the vista, and Francine nearly ran into them when she rounded the corner.
“Mom, you decided to join us.”
“No, I was just checking on a few things.”
Rance stood back while the women spoke. A man turned the corner and stopped short. His eyes locked with Rance’s. He turned on his heel and fled.
Rance and Elizabeth looked over the dessert menu after the main course. Baked Hawaiian and Dates á la mode grappled for their attention.
“Let’s get both and share,” said Elizabeth.
“Agreed.” Rance saw Francine dash by. “Your mother seems to be staying busy?”
“Busy is Mom’s middle name. She decided an air-ferry was the best way to transport her jewelry to a London show. I reasoned a quick flight would be safer, but she insisted on a slow voyage.”
“I know a little about security. If I can help, let me know.”
“You don’t look like the type that works in malls.”
“Good one.” Rance swirled the ice in his drink. “Served in the Military Police, a short stint with NYPD, but I like working solo.”
“You’re a PI?
“Yes, but you don’t have to say it with such disdain.”
“Sorry. I’m sure you’re a successful private dick.” Elizabeth’s smile broadened, and she had trouble keeping ice cream from running out the corners of her mouth.
“Have breakfast with me, Elizabeth.”
“If you agree to call me Lizzy.”
The next morning they dined outside. Francine burst onto the terrace. “Lizzy, something terrible has happened.” She grabbed Elizabeth’s arm and pulled her to her feet.
“Mom, What’s wrong?”
“Someone stole my jewelry.
“Are you sure? Did you talk with security?”
“The chief said they could only search rooms of passengers who consent.
Elizabeth helped her mother to a chair and poured a glass of water.
“If your mother’s valuables were stolen,” said Rance, “they’re still on board.”
“Lizzy, there’s something I should tell you. There’s no show in London. I’ve made arrangements to sell my collection.”
“When your father passed last year, he left you, your brother and me a lot of money. You know that. He also left us a lot of debt.”
Rance saw the man from the night before watching from inside. He was holding night vision goggles. Then he was gone.
Rance returned to his cabin. He was grasping for something he had heard about since he got on the ferry. He snapped his fingers.
“Come with me,” he said, leaning in through Francine’s open door. They strolled the main deck and found a door marked Authorized Personnel. They slipped through and descended the stairs.
They stole among the cargo in the darkness. Rance recalled the man with the night vision goggles.
“This is pointless,” hissed Francine. “Let’s get out of here before someone sees us.”
“Mom,” Elizabeth whispered, “do you want to find the jewelry or not?”
“There.” Rance pointed at a large plastic tank. Their vision had adapted, and they could make out the round form with a cone shaped top and hatch.
“What’s that?” said Elizabeth.
“Garbage. It’ll be dropped in thirty minutes.”
“Who would throw my jewelry in there?” said Francine. “It’s ridiculous.
A figure emerged from the shadows with a large dry bag, dressed in a diving suit with an air tank. He climbed a ladder, opened the hatch and dropped inside.
“Bobby?” Elizabeth stepped forward. “What’s going on?”
“Lizzy? What are you doing here? Where’s Mom?”
“Here.” Francine joined her daughter.
“I don’t understand,” said Elizabeth.
“I think I do,” said Francine. “Should I tell my version, Bobby?”
Her son came down. Rance recognized him. Bobby was the man he had seen twice since the previous evening.
“It’s not complicated. I stole the jewelry. I was to be hidden in the container when it was dropped. I have a life raft and enough food and water to last until I was rescued.
“What were you going to do with Mom’s collection?”.
“Sell it. Mom would get the insurance money and I was going to pay off the debts anonymously.” Disbelief echoed in the awkward silence.
“May I speak?” Rance stepped up. Elizabeth’s hand slipped around his and squeezed her approval. “The only crime that’s been committed is theft by a family member. The insurance company won’t be defrauded. This is a family affair, and I’m sure you’ll find a way to rebuild your trust.”
“I believe you, Bobby.” Francine went to her son followed by her daughter.
Rance and Elizabeth sat on the terrace. Cornwall and the Bristol Channel were visible to the northeast.
“I need a vacation from my family.” She smiled through the tears.
“I happen to be on a round the world vacation. You’re welcome to join me, if you don’t mind traveling with a private dick.”