Strangers on a Plane
by Ted Myers
We were seated next to each other, two young men in their twenties, flying from New York to Los Angeles. I’m not a bad-looking chap, but this guy was a knockout. There was an immediate attraction. The way he looked at me, I could tell there was chemistry for him, too. He struck up the conversation and somehow got my whole story, albeit a false one. He told me his name was Rod; Rodney French to his future fans.
“You flying on business?” he asked.
“In a way. I came into some money — a lot of money — and I have to see a lawyer in LA to claim it.”
“No kidding. Congratulations! Was it a close relative?”
“Actually, it’s someone I’ve never even met. A great-uncle or something. It seems I’m his only living relative.”
“You said a lot of money. Mind telling me how much?”
“Fourteen million dollars.”
I don’t know why I told him that. I can see now it was a mistake.
He whistled softly. “You’re a lucky man.”
“How about you? Why’re you going to LA?”
“Oh... I’ve been offered a small part in a movie. I act.”
“Wow, that’s exciting. I wish I was creative.”
“Acting’s not that hard — it’s just lying with style, pretending you’re something you’re not. I was in a play off-Broadway and some Hollywood producer spotted me, offered me a part. Well, it’s not in the bag yet. I have to do a screen test.”
We discovered we were both twenty-seven. We were just about the same height and weight. We looked a lot alike, except that he had fair hair and mine was dark. I had a slight bump on my nose; his was straight. We could have been brothers. It came out that he had spent his last dime on the plane fare. He was betting the farm on that screen test.
“I guess I’ll sleep in the airport and then try to bum a ride to Burbank. That’s where the film company is.”
“Don’t be silly,” I said. “I’ve reserved a suite at the Beverly Hilton. You can stay with me.”
“Really? That’s so kind of you. Thanks!”
“It’ll be a pleasure,” I said, raising one eyebrow to punctuate the innuendo.
That night, in the Beverly Hilton, we made love with abandon. Then Rodney smothered me to death with a pillow as I slept. I woke up in time to realize I was being murdered but too late to do anything about it. I know he intended to take all the papers relating to my inheritance, my passport, my driver’s license, dye his hair to match mine, and give himself the little bump in the nose with his actor’s makeup kit.
But, of course, he found no such papers, because I had lied about the inheritance. Instead, he found in my suitcase the $14 million in negotiable bonds I had stolen from my employer, Hereford Stanley, an investment bank in New York. How I got my hands on those bonds and to whom they belonged is a long and twisted tale. Suffice it to say that my scheme was complex and sophisticated enough for me to avoid detection, but only for a day or two. Just enough time for me to unload the bonds to a contact I had at a shady Filipino bank in LA, collect the cash — less his commission of $1 million — get phony ID documents made, drop off the cash with my accomplice, and grab a plane to Thailand.
My ultimate destination was an obscure little beach where there were many American ex-pats. More than a few were fugitives from justice like myself. I was crazy about Rodney. I would have gladly taken him along, if only he hadn’t killed me.
But now Rodney was stuck in the Beverly Hilton with my dead body and a bundle of hot bonds and no idea what to do with them. He didn’t know about my guy at the Filipino bank.
After my soul left my body, it did not ascend to Heaven or plunge to the fiery depths of Hell. I never believed in any of that stuff anyway. No, I stayed right there with Rodney, right in the hotel suite. I wanted to see what would happen next. I could almost read all the questions racing through his mind: How will I dispose of the body? Should I take his identity? These bonds say ‘negotiable,’ but how?
I watched as he counted the bonds. They were each worth $10,000. “Fourteen million, just like he said,” he muttered to himself. “He must’ve stolen them. I’m sittin’ on fourteen million in negotiable bonds, but how do I unload them?” He paced the room, thinking, thinking, thinking. “Who do I know that’s a criminal I can trust?”
Then he laughed. “‘A criminal I can trust.’ That’s a good one.” He rifled through my things, went into the pockets of all my clothes, combed through the contacts on my phone. Then, he found it: the business card of my Filipino banker, Alejo Reyes at the Banco Nacional de Manila. I read his body language: This is it! He clasped the card to his chest and raised his face skyward, eyes closed, wordlessly thanking the patron saint of criminals.
Now, what to do with my body? He would never be able to smuggle it out of the hotel. He had no car, he had no money, only those damned bonds. He went outside onto the balcony which overlooked Wilshire Boulevard. As always, it was choked with traffic in both directions. Then it came to him. He went through my pockets and found a few dollars in cash. Then he went out and bought some hair dye — brown for him and blond for me.
After dying his hair brown, he spent a lot of time in the mirror with his makeup kit, getting that little bump in his nose just right. Then, he dragged me into the bathroom, laid me out in the bathtub, and dyed my hair blond — his shade. I saw what he was planning. He dressed my body in his clothes and planted all his ID on it. I — or rather Rodney French — was going to commit a spectacular suicide on Wilshire Boulevard.
Timing was everything. He had to wait until morning — banking hours — to go see Alejo. The suicide had to take place just as he left the hotel. He knew my body would soon be identified, but this would provide a great diversion as he made his escape. There must be no evidence left behind. No trace of me; no trace of Rodney.
He spent the rest of the night wiping the place clean of fingerprints, putting every object back exactly where it had been. The sheets would bear forensic evidence, and the place would be crawling with cops after he “jumped,” so he stripped the bed, took all the sheets, pillowcases and blankets, and threw them down a laundry chute at two a.m. He wouldn’t bother to check out of the hotel; they already had my credit card on file. He would just get into one of the cabs that were always outside and take it to the bank.
Meanwhile, back in New York, Hereford Stanley had discovered the bonds — and me — missing. They called the SEC, the FBI, and their lawyers. The search was on. It didn’t take the FBI long to track my credit card to the airline, to LA, to the hotel. They arrived just in time for Rodney’s “suicide.” Undeterred, they went up to our room, literally rubbing shoulders with Rodney as he left the hotel. He would have to use my credit card for the taxi.
I went along for the ride. “What’s all the commotion?” he asked the cab driver.
“Some guy jumped off a balcony and splattered all over the sidewalk. Good thing he didn’t land on anybody.”
At the Banco Nacional, Rodney introduced himself to Alejo as me. He didn’t know whether or not Alejo and I had actually spoken before. We had, on the phone. Alejo detected something fishy, a different voice perhaps. He gave Rodney a funny look, then brightened and said, “Of course! Come this way.”
Rodney followed Alejo into his private office, where Rodney turned over the bonds. “Just one moment,” said Alejo, and he left the room. He returned a few moments later with a large suitcase — the kind with wheels — full of cash. “Here you are: fourteen million less my commission of two million. Twelve million dollars. Have a nice trip.”
Rodney didn’t blink. He took the money with a smile, briefly surveyed it to make sure the money was real; it would take days to count it. Now, Alejo knew he wasn’t me. The commission was only supposed to be one million.
Rodney took a hundred-dollar bill out of the suitcase, went to a bank teller and had her break it into smaller bills. Then he left the bank to hail a cab, dragging the suitcase — which weighed nearly 300 pounds — behind him. He didn’t know how hard it is to hail a cab in LA.
There were a lot of things Rodney didn’t know. He sure was pretty, but not much between the ears. For instance, he didn’t realize that $12 million in cash weighs 264 pounds. Of course, I had considered all of this in my plan. This was where my accomplice, Otto Gorshenheim, came in.
Otto was an old and trusted friend who owned a thriving antique shop in Beverly Hills. I knew I couldn’t get a 300-pound suitcase loaded with cash onto a plane and across an international border. No one could. Otto — for a generous cut of the profits — was going to send me a series of antiques in Thailand: urns, statues, lamps, all stuffed with cash. Each would be carefully packed and impervious to x-ray detection. I would receive my money, one million at a time. Rodney was in big trouble.
The FBI had already traced his use of my credit card in the taxi he took to the bank. They had the address, and they were on their way. But it wasn’t the feds who picked up Rodney on the street outside the bank; it was a car full of Filipino gangsters. They whisked him into the back seat and knocked him unconscious. It took three strapping guys to lift the suitcase into the trunk
I got into the car with them. It was crowded, but I didn’t take up much space. Then, they put a bullet through Rodney’s feeble brain and threw his body out of the car in an alley.
As soon as Rodney’s soul left his body, I began to feel an odd tingling. I was spinning inside a vortex of some kind. Rodney was with me; we were nose-to-nose. We spun for what seemed forever until we were abruptly plunked down, down, down into a dark place.
As my eyes adjusted, I could see we were in a cramped prison cell. I had a sick, sinking feeling. So, there is a Hell after all. It was just me and Rodney. Rodney and me. Glaring at each other. Is this how I spend eternity?
Copyright © 2018 by Ted Myers