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Tuesday, July 2, 1996
JESSICA WYETH’S FEET hadn’t touched the tarmac before she knew returning to the States was a mistake. The twin engine Gulfstream V made her an easy target as she paused before descending the jet’s airstairs. Arriving at the private corporate terminal didn’t stop reporters from finding her. Questions pelted her from the group gathered at the edge of the chain link fence. Dark stains under their arms appeared each time they raised their cameras, proving the hot and humid Kentucky summer could be as oppressive as they were. They strained to grab their piece of her — the fugitive who had stopped running because she had no place to hide.
Someone must have leaked that Northern Ireland had kicked her out and questioned if the U.S. would take her in.
She was news.
She was their meal ticket.
“Why did you flee the United States?”
“Are you worried about other charges being pressed against you?”
“If you’re innocent, why hide?”
The cool air of the Irelands faded to memory as if it had been years since she roamed its hills rather than hours. She closed her eyes and imagined erasing the tabloid hacks with a wave of her hand while finger-snapping herself back to a normal life. Instead, thick air, laden with the stench of jet fuel, hot tar, and sweat, pushed against her as she stood in the passageway. Each click of a shutter was an electric jolt pushing her dream farther away.
Two police cars flanking a large black SUV, with blue lights flashing beneath their grill, pulled up and blocked the jet’s path. The gold seal of U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service proclaimed their purpose. A man with shorn hair opened the SUV’s passenger-side door and leaned his heft against its frame. His head angled toward the jet as he spoke into a radio mic pressed to his mouth. Aviator sunglasses shielded his eyes. Self-importance oozed out of him.
Uncertain and afraid, Jessica backed into the cocoon of the jet.
A man in his late twenties, dressed in a crisp uniform with “MMC, Ltd.” embroidered on the chest pocket, held her suitcase. Cabin Steward Devins avoided her eyes as he spoke. “I’m sorry, Miss Jessica. There’s an issue with your re-entry. I’m afraid that beefy lad doesn’t want your dainty toes on his soil,” he said, soft brogue keeping his inflection light. “May I suggest you wait here ‘til you’ve got clearance.”
“Wait. You’re telling me that as soon as my feet hit the tarmac, they’ll handcuff me?” Her back thumped against the hatch frame in disbelief.
“Not so much handcuff you as provide an escort, but an armed one at that. I’ve not seen the inside of the terminal, but it’s a fair guess you’ll be more comfortable with us. We’ve been told the authorities’ presence is all quite routine.”
“Routine enough to send three police cars?” She dared another peek out to the tarmac. The staccato ticks of camera shutters trilled. “No. Something’s up.”
Devins’ expression darkened long enough to trigger acid to pool in the pit of her stomach.
She grappled with her thoughts and pinched the bridge of her nose. Don’t show fear. No one knows. Everything will be fine. “How long will this take?”
“Could be days, Miss Wyeth.” Jessica turned to see the pilot standing inside the open cockpit. A pin of gold wings with “Capt. Lisbeth Laramie” engraved in block letters rested on her uniform’s navy blue lapel. The salt and pepper bun at the nape of her neck sat as neatly as it had at the beginning of their nine-hour trip from Belfast.
Captain Laramie drew in a short breath and squared her shoulders. “The only information I have is that officials in Northern Ireland contacted their counterparts in the States to inform them of their findings while we traveled.”
“What findings? Those guys are from immigration, but I’m returning to the States.” What was happening? Immigration? Oh, God.
“When one country expels a person, no other country must take them in until they’ve completed an investigation. As long as you don’t deplane, we’re cleared to take off.”
Jessica shrank into the shadow of the door as she looked at cruisers, agents, and reporters. The theater was all too perfect. Images of the inevitable headlines of the evening news tracked across her vision, marquee style — Murdering Heiress: Resurrected to a Life on the Run. She began to feel very small against the forces at work. “But, if I can’t leave, you can’t either.”
“You can leave the U.S., you just can’t enter. You’re welcome to stay aboard while the craft is serviced.” The lilt of the captain’s words did not soften their message. “We will remain on the ground for as long as it takes. I’m told legal teams in Belfast and Boston are working on your situation now.”
“Is that what this is? My situation?” Jessica laughed at the ridiculousness of her circumstance. Her situation, as the captain deftly stated, required nothing less than legal teams in two countries trying to talk logic to bureaucrats.
They’d have more luck making pigs fly.
You don't HAVE to read either The Charity or The Troubles to know the backstory of The Wake, but, hey, it's summer, the beach is there, and why not?
|Read the award-winning THE TROUBLES|
|Start the trilogy from the beginning? Read THE CHARITY|