Flight 404 Chapter 75

Chapter 75

Two agents from the Discreet Detective Agency staked out the Salem Hotel.  Frank and I took the Eighty-eight Street Hotel. 

The Eighty-eight Street Hotel was a scene right out of a detective novel.  Calling this place seedy would have been a compliment.  The walls were two different shades of green.  Neither one especially appealing.  The upper half a nauseating yellow green and the bottom half was a dark pea soup green.  And both top and bottom walls were covered over with a greasy dirty film. 

The scuffed brown floor tile with white speckling only enhanced its run down look.  The blinds that covered the lobby’s windows had long ago turned a parchment tan and most of them were torn at the bottom with curled up edges.  Others had collected a mélange of various stains.  Pushed in the corners of the lobby were piles of dust and dirt, discarded coffee cups, used condoms and waded up tissues.   A shriveled up old man with stringy gray hair sat behind a caged in counter.

When Frank and I approached the window his first words were, “we don’t rent by the hour.”   I looked him straight in the eyes and replied, “Neither do I.”  He looked me over from head to foot, and replied, “Oh, you’re the high priced spread.”  Looking a Frank he added with a smirk on his face, “You’re into the kinky stuff.”  I was about to set him straight when Frank stepped in between us.

“Listen mister, we didn’t come here to rent a room.  We came for some information.”  He scowled even more and scratched his scraggly old head as if trying to work up a credible answer in advance.  A twenty-dollar bill relaxed the scowl on his face.  Frank showed him a picture of Rebecca Schuster dressed as Lester Schuster. 

He was here.  Gone now I suppose”

“Do you know where he went?”

“Don’t know.  What he do anyway?”

“He owes us some money.” 

“How much money?”

“That’s between us and him.”

“You don’t look like the type to lend money”, he said looking directly at me.

“We just want our money back,” I said.

“Is there a reward?”

Frank slipped him another twenty.

“I haven’t seen him for awhile.  But he has a girlfriend staying up there.”

“Girlfriend?”

“Some girl named, ah let’s see here, he said looking through his registry.  Yes, Elise Rivera.  I caught her trying to sneak in and out a couple of weeks ago.  I put her straight.  I said if two people gonna stay in a room I’m gonna charge for two people.  I told her they were gonna pay for two people or get the hell out.  I ain’t seen Lester since.”  

“Any idea where she goes when she goes out?”

“The last time I was up there, I took a little peek.  I saw a JFK employee ID tag.”

“When was that, asked Frank.”

“A couple of days ago.”

“Is she upstairs in the apartment, now?”

The old man shook his head, no, and his neck creaked from the effort.

“When do you expect her back?”

“Tonight sometime.”

Before leaving, Frank slipped the old man another twenty not to mention our visit.

 

Flight 404 Chapter 74

Chapter 74

Our plane landed pretty much on time and without incident.  I must confess I was a little apprehensive about flying with Frank.  After all Rebecca Schuster was still out there.

As I recall, we were at Baggage Claim when my mobile phone rang. 

“Hello.”

“Margaret it’s David. LaTanya gave me the message that you’re in Virginia meeting with Frank.”

“I was, but now we’re in New York at JFK. Our plane arrived about ten minutes ago. We decided to try and convince Saul not to take this trip and if we can’t do that, we’re going to keep a look out for any signs that Rebecca might be up to her old tricks.”

“I’ve got a better idea and a probable reason why the FBI hasn’t been able to locate her.  I believe Rebecca is living as a man, as Lester Schuster.”

“I guess that makes sense. She is very convincing as a man.”   

“Yes, she is because she thinks she’s a man.  And that’s what I’ve been working on – what and where would she go as a man.  And I think I’ve got it solved.”

“Great, I’ll call you back when we get to the hotel.”

“Sounds like you and Frank are becoming quite an item.”

I watched as Frank pulled first my suitcase and then his from the luggage carousel.

“I think it has possibilities.”

“Just be careful.”

“I will. You can fax that information over to the Omni Star Hotel in Manhattan.”  We both hung up. 

“What was that about?

“David says he has a lead on Rebecca.”

“Good, I’d rather look for Rebecca any day than have another conversation with Saul.  I’m sure he still blames our last talk for his behavior during the crash.”

“You were only trying to warn him.”

“I’m afraid he doesn’t see it that way.”

By now we had made our way through the terminal and were standing on the curve with our luggage. 

“I’ll get us a taxi.  By the way, where are we staying?”

“I made reservations for us at the Omni Star Hotel.”

The package of information was waiting for us when we arrived.  According to David, Rebecca had emptied her checking account on the first day she went missing. So, he had started his search for Lester Schuster based on hotels within walking distance from a branch of the same bank that Rebecca used.  The hotel or motel, we were looking for would also have storage units nearby where Lester could store a vehicle and one which tolerated prostitution.  There were only two hotels close to the bank which Rebecca used that fit that within our search range.

 

Flight 404 Chapter 73

Chapter 73

Maria Conchita Alonso Alverez took one subway train, two buses, and one and half hours to reach her third floor walk-up on Flatbush Avenue.

As she turned the key in the lock, she said a silent prayer to St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, that her four-year-old son, Juan, and her six-year-old daughter Christina were OK inside the apartment.

A five year veteran with Trans Air’s cleaning crew, Maria made eight dollars an hour with no benefits.  She received one hundred and fifty dollars a month in food stamps to feed herself and her two children.  The city of New York also granted her, as a single mother, a one hundred and twenty dollar housing allowance to assist in covering her seven hundred and fifty dollars a month rent.  All of her other bills, electricity, gas, phone, toiletries, shoes and clothing for two growing children, transportation costs to and from work, and the remaining six hundred and thirty dollars of her rent, came out of her Trans Air salary.

And like so many others, who had made the journey from Mexico’s poverty to New York’s promise, she was expected to send money home.  In order to cover all her expenses, she was often forced to leave her children home alone.

Today, her prayers were answered.  Christina bounded across the room and greeted her mother with a broad smile and a big, “Hola MaMe.”  Her little brother Juan waddled in from the bedroom dragging his teddy bear behind him after hearing that his mother was home.

Maria gathered her children in her arms and hugged and kissed each one, telling them how pleased she was to have such good little ninas. 

Christina was the first to notice the bags Maria had hidden in the hallway.  “What is in the bags, MaMe?” 

“You will find out.  Now help me carry everything into the kitchen.”

As she unpacked the heavily laden bags, the children oohed and aahed as each item sprung up from their depths.  Maria, herself, wondered about the strange young woman who had given her such a wonderful gift.

Last week she had taken her usual seat in Trans Air’s employee cafeteria to eat her modest brown bag lunch when the young woman had sat down next to her.  At first they exchanged the usual pleasantries and both ate their lunch in mutual silence.  The next day, the young woman was back.  This time, she introduced herself as Elise Rivera, a member of the airport’s terminal cleaning crew, cleaning bathrooms and pulling trash. 

By Wednesday, the two were fast friends.  On Thursday, Elise had confided to Maria a dream she’d held for a long time.  “I have a dream of being like you, Maria, cleaning the big jets.”  She went on to propose an almost unbelievable plan to Maria and she was willing to pay Maria for her part in it.    “I’ll give you ten thousand dollars for a chance at getting a spot on your cleaning crew.  “Where did you get so much money?”   “I have saved it. I know what I want to do and cleaning bathrooms all my life is not it.  If I get on your crew, I might meet a pilot and marry him and not have to worry anymore about anything.  I have a plan.”  “Si,” Maria, said.

“All you have to do Maria is tell your supervisor that you need to return home to Mexico on urgent family business and that you have a friend who will fill in for you while you’re gone.  And give my name, That’s all you have to do, Maria!”

“If anyone finds out, I’ll lose my job.”

“I understand, Maria.” Sadden by Maria’s refusal, Elise had hung her head and remained silent for the rest of their lunch hour.

 All Maria could think about was how badly she needed the money and of her two young children who were at home alone.

Maria finished cooking and sat the plates heaped with hamburgers and store bought French fries drowned in catsup in front of each child.  In the middle of the table she sat a bowl of fresh fruit.  She went back to the kitchen and poured tall glasses of ice cold milk for each child.  Finally she set a plate and glass for herself and sat down at the table with her children.

The children sat motionlessness in front of the steeped plates afraid to touch them.  Only on special occasions did they have meat.  Christina asked if they were having company.  Maria explained it was all for them.  “Eat up ninas.”  Maria smiled at her good little ninas and started eating. 

She had a plan, too.  And it didn’t include returning to Trans Air. Elise Rivera, she suspected was up to something illegal – perhaps drug smuggling.  But that didn’t matter to her.  What mattered was her ninas. 

Tomorrow she would pack for the trip back home to Mexico – with all that money she could return home and buy a house for herself, her children, and her mother.  Never again would she have to worry about her ninas being alone.

 

Flight 404 Chapter 72

Chapter 72

David’s soul could not rest.  Kate had loved him, he knew that from reading her diary, but she hadn’t been completely honest with him.  She was being threatened, harassed, and stalked, and had kept it all to herself.  Was she afraid to tell him?  Was there something lacking in him?  Did she think he was not man enough to handle the problem?  Damn it! He pounded the desk with his balled up fist so hard that the ‘world’s best daddy cup, his ink pen set – a present from his mother –, and the silver framed picture of Kate took a little hop on top of the desk.

He paced the length of his office wearing thin its plush beige carpet.  Damn, damn, he kept muttering to himself.  Kate’s killer had been someone she knew, someone who had attended his wedding party, someone who had smiled in his face, shaken his hand and had wished him well, someone who had spied on him and Kate from afar.  And that someone was still out there.  How much did Lester, Mary Ellen, or whatever the hell she was calling herself, know about him and Kate?  Should he be fearful for the rest of his family?  Were Kaila and his mother in danger?  Was he?   Deep in his heart, he knew what he had to do in order to be safe and answer all these nagging questions.

He’d backed off and left the investigation to the Feds and they had botched it.  Rebecca or Mary Ellen or Lester, had been very good at the job of evading capture. 

Evidently, she had intercepted the FBI’s request for her files and had fled that very same day.  A sigh of exasperation escaped his lips as he stomped back across the room and slumped back down into the big overstuffed chair that had formerly belonged to Sam Larson.

Mildred knocked on the door and interrupted his train of thought.

“Come in.”

“David, I just wanted to remind you that it’s Nelson’s birthday today and we’re about ready to cut the cake. Perhaps, you’d like to say a few words.”

“Nelson?  Which one is Nelson?”

“Nelson is the young thin blonde haired boy.  You know the one.  She took a few steps closer to his desk and leaned in and whispered in an amused voice, “the one everybody says is so pretty he could pass for a girl.”

His eyes bore into Mildred’s wrinkled face.  And in that moment, it struck him why the FBI had not been successful in locating Rebecca Schuster.  They were looking for a woman, when they should have been looking for a man.

The pictures circulated by the FBI of Rebecca Schuster showed her as a tall, red hair woman with a stocky build, however, there were no pictures of Lester Schuster –  a slim built man with short dark brown hair — being circulated, at all.

After a few seconds, he realized Mildred was still in the room waiting for his reply. 

“Ah, yes, Mildred the party.  I’ll be there in a minute.”

He took out a notepad and pencil before getting up from his desk and wrote, thinking like a man, where would I go and what would I do? 

A man would not go home, or to friends, nor a women’s shelter.

A man would have had a hideout (some place familiar yet safe)

A man would need money, transportation, an anonymous sex.

 He also wrote track these things and you’ll find Lester, before leaving with Mildred for Nelson’s party.

 

Flight 404 Chapter 71

Chapter 71

After reading the New York Times’ story on Saul Abramovitz, I had called the FBI and told them that they might as well have waived a red flag in the face of a bull.  Rebecca Schuster was sure to take the story as a challenge.  They assured me that they had the situation well in hand and that Mr. Abramovitz was in no danger.

Having gotten nowhere with them, I decided to drive up to Ashburn, Virginia an enlist Frank’s help.

As the elevator climbed towards Frank’s floor, I couldn’t help but recall our last time being together.  That had been back in December and I hadn’t been ready for love again, so soon after Sam’s death.  But now my pulse was racing in anticipation.  Hopefully, he still felt the same way.  The elevator bell rang, announcing my floor.  The doors opened and my resolve faded.  Should I get out?  Would he see right through my excuse for being here?  Was this the right thing to do?  As I stood there weighing each course of actions, I realized that a young man was standing there politely holding the elevator doors open waiting for me to exit.  I didn’t want to look stupid, so I stepped out. 

Frank was sitting in his office with his back to the door his head was tracing the path of a plane across the sky.

“Is this your punishment?” I asked.

At the sound of my voice, his head stopped following the plane and he swiveled his office chair around in my direction.  The broad smile that broke out across his face, at the sight of me, sent my emotions soaring.

“It was, until you walked in”, he said rising to his feet.  His arms were around me in an instant.  He smelled of tweed, soap, and Gray Flannel cologne.  He released his hold on me after about a minute and happily began dusting off a spar chair so I could sit down.

“God, I’m glad you’re here”, he said.

“I don’t know whether you’ll continue feeling that way once you know the other reason I’m here.”

“There are two?  What’s the first one?”

I could feel the blood rising to my checks thinking about the second reason.  I handed him a folded copy of the New York Times with the article about Saul Abramovitz highlighted.

“I saw it”, he said.  “Agent Sanchez and the FBI insist that Rebecca is no longer a threat.  And that’s the official line.”

“Is that your official line, too?”

“No.” He leaned forward and looked directly into my eyes and said.  “I think all those people on board that plane with Saul are in danger.  That’s my unofficial line.”

“Are we going to just sit around and let Rebecca kill another two hundred or more people?”

“Well, I do have some vacation time coming.  No reason I can’t take it starting now.”

At that point, he stood up, grabbed his coat from the back of the chair, extended me his arm, and we were out the door.  As we stepped on the elevator, he leaned down and whispered in my ear, “this time I won’t take no for an answer.”

 

Flight 404 Chapter 70

Chapter 70

March, Spring, Resurrection.  All things dead during the long winter were being resurrected, namely Saul Abramovitz. 

He thought surely he’d gotten that bastard.  But two weeks ago, he’d gone to the Gary, Indiana newsstand where they sold out of state newspapers and had purchased a copy of the New York Times. 

The Times was doing an article on a local man who had survived the crash of Nations Air Flight 625.  In the article Mr. Abramovitz had talked about how a lot of the passengers had blamed him for opening the plane’s door which had led to the drowning of several passengers.  But the NTSB had absolved him of any wrong doing, stating that he did what any person in his position would have done. 

The article went on to say that Mr. Abramovitz at the time, thought that the crash was quite possibly an act of revenge against him. And that a certain Rebecca Schuster, aka Mary Ellen Schuster, was wanted in connection with the crash. 

However, Mr. Abramovitz was not going to let what happened aboard Nations Air Flight 625 keep him from taking a once in a life time trip to Israel to attend this year’s Passover Seder with his family. Mr. Abramovitz’s flight would depart from JFK International Airport on March twentieth.

Lester sat in his old beat up truck across from JFK airport and watched the grounds crew through binoculars.  He was paying particular attention to their work habits, rotation schedule, uniforms, and IDs.  He figured he could easily slip in during the evening work rotation, but not as part of the maintenance crew.

This time, his best course of action was to become part of the cleaning crew.  That way, he would have access to the on-board computer.  Once aboard the plane, he would program the computer to shutdown when three criteria were met:  after the plane had traveled one hundred and eighty miles, reached an altitude of thirty-two thousand feet, and the autopilot was engaged.  By that time, the plane would be well off the coast and high over the Atlantic.  The location would make rescue difficult and detection of his handy work all but impossible.  This time he wasn’t going to leave any room for that bastard Saul to escape. 

From his observations, he knew International flights sat on the concourse for about an hour before departing.  After he’d finished his ‘modifications’ on the plane, he’d have time to leave the airport and drive the forty miles to where he would set up his long-range cameras along the coast.  If he couldn’t be there in person to see her go down, at least he could get a picture of her before she headed out to sea.

He had his tools, uniforms, and cameras stored in the same garage where he’d kept his truck.  His movies were stored there also.  During the past three months, he’d consoled himself by watching those ‘movies’.  But now he’d have something new to watch, Trans Air Flight 200 departing JFK at eight o’clock p.m. on March twentieth.

It was time Lester Schuster thought to resurrect his goal of becoming master of death.

 

Flight 404 Chapter 69

Chapter 69

Three and a half months later Frank sat at his new desk in the Ashburn, Virginia regional office of the NTSB, more or less wishing that his vision of being fired had come true. 

Being an office drown was not his forte.  He missed field work.  Truth be told, he even missed the stench of jet fuel and burnt flesh.  But he would never have admitted that to anyone.  That in itself would have been grounds for a psych review and he had another two months of probation, reviewing the reports of other on-site investigators before he could get back into the field, provided his name was not linked to any more crashes in a negative way.

To his surprise Agent Sanchez had backed him up during the FBI’s investigation of his involvement in the crashes of Flight 404 and 625.

The investigation had hit a snag when the FBI was unable to find any trace of Rebecca Schuster.  Somehow, she had managed to slip through their nets.

As for her strange behavior on the tape, a well-known physiatrist after viewing the tape said it was most likely due to DID, Disassociate Identity Disorder.  And that the DID had probably been brought on by the sexual abuse she suffered from her father and/or the  continued harassment inflicted upon her after Donald Schuster refused to move out of the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, no one would ever know for sure because a search of Rebecca’s apartment had uncovered what had really become of her parents.  Their bodies were found hacked to pieces, wrapped in plastic, and covered with lime in a freezer located in the kitchen pantry.  They’d never left for Florida.

 

Flight 404 Chapter 68

Chapter 68

Mary Ellen Schuster was sitting in for Rebecca Schuster as usual when the file access warning came up on her screen.  She had programmed her personnel file to send her a warning whenever anyone retrieved it for review.  The ID tag on the reviewer was National Transportation Safety Bureau.  “Frank!”

Hurriedly she took her purse from her bottom desk drawer and forced herself to walk slowly down the hall on the pretense of having to use the lady’s room.   She ran up the back stairs and made her way past the Sergeant on duty.  Her heart was pounding wildly in her chest.  She could hear Lester in the back of her head screaming, “They know, they know!  Don’t go home!  Use the escape plan.”

At six o’clock p.m. Rebecca Schuster’s supervisor reported her missing.  Several squad cars were dispatched to her home address.

Ray Jones was at home when there was a faint tap at his front door.  Opening the door, he was quickly and quietly ushered outside to a safe waiting area.  Sylvia was the next to be escorted down.  Afterward, several heavily armed men dressed in black with helmets on their heads rushed up the three flights to Rebecca Schuster’s apartment. 

“Rebecca Shuster — NYPD open the door.”  There was no response.    Ray watched as two more men in black ran up the stairs carrying what looked like a big black log.  It occurred to him that they were going to knock Rebecca’s door down. 

Across the city in downtown Manhattan, Mary Ellen Schuster still posing as Rebecca withdrew a substantial amount of money – eight thousand dollars — from her account, before the Feds were able to shut it down.

She then took the number three train out to the Bronx to where Lester garaged his truck.  Inside the locked truck, underneath the front seat was a change of clothing, a gun with ammunition, and another five thousand in cash.  She drove out of the city before roadblocks were set up.

 

Flight 404 Chapter 67

Chapter 67

How did you know?

Like I said, I had a feeling I’d met her before. And it was weird because I knew without a doubt, that I’d never met Rebecca Schuster.  She was and yet wasn’t the woman I’d met before.  So, I put the Discreet Detective Agency to work following Rebecca.  And after realizing that a woman similar to Rebecca had attended Kate and my wedding reception – oh, hell I mean party, I had my mother retrieve some of Kate’s things from the attic. 

The letters were in a storage chest — a storage chest that for most of our marriage sat at the foot of our bed.  I never thought to look in it.  I guess that’s why she hid them there.  She knew they’d be safe from prying eyes.

“Can I see some of the letters?”

“I gotta warn you, they’re not for the faint of heart.” 

 

Dear Kate,

From the moment I laid eyes on you at the airport, I knew we belonged

Together.

 Lester.

 

 Dear Kate,

Are you trying to test my love?   I know you can’t possibly go thru

with marry that black ape.  Stop seeing him, immediately.

 Lester

 

 Dear Kate

I was in town the other day and I came by to see you.  But you were with that nigger.  One day, I’m going to kill that nigger for you.

 Lester

 The letters went on and on like that.  I had to ask, “David, when did Kate meet Lester Schuster?”

My guess is right before we were married.  I remember, she went home to meet with her parents.  She wanted to talk with them about us, that is, about my being Black and all.  She wanted to tell them in person – face to face.  She flew home.”

“Once I realized that this guy has been hanging around airports for that long, I decided to go back and check film footage from Sam’s crash. Sure enough, he was at the Indiana crash site. Hanging around in the background the way he or she did at my wedding. 

We debated on what to do with the tape.  The tape of Rebecca’s apartment, constituted an illegal wiretap.  That we knew.  At best, we could take it to the FBI, and have them reconstruct David’s investigation, or we could give it to the NTSB, clear Frank’s name and have them reconstruct David’s investigation.  We decided to clear Frank’s name.

 

Flight 404 Chapter 66

Chapter 66

We were just finishing up our lunch when the restaurant’s matra d brought the phone over to our table and sat it down in front of me.

“Who knows you’re here, at the hotel?”  Frank asked rather surprised.

I lifted the receiver to my ear.  As far as I knew no one knew I was in New York except LaTanya our receptionist.

“Hello?”

“Margaret. It’s David.”

“David!  Where are you?”

“I’m in Park Slope at the home of Ray Jones.  He lives downstairs from Sylvia Abramovitz and Rebecca Schuster.”

“What on earth are you doing there?”

“Following up on a lead.”

“I thought we all agreed that Rebecca was not the person we were looking for.”

“I know, but there was something about her. So, I followed up on a hunch and you won’t believe what I found.  I’m on my way now.  I’ll meet you at the hotel.”

“That was David.  He says he has something he wants me to see.  He’s coming right over.” 

 

Twenty minutes later, we were back in our hotel room, joined by David, watching a video of Rebecca Schuster’s apartment.

“What is she doing?” I asked.

“Changing”, David said.

“I know she’s changing clothes, but …”

“No.  I mean she’s changing into different people.  One of her is a man and the other, is a woman, possibly two women.  One called Mary and the other Rebecca.  It’s what she says later that I want you to hear.”

I watched and listened as Rebecca Schuster, or rather, Lester Schuster and Mary Ellen Schuster argued amongst themselves and confessed to the murder of Kate Walker.

“Oh my God, David,” I said, wrapping my arms around the gentle six-foot giant who sat weeping in a chair as he watched the last few minutes of the tape.  “They have a film of her burning, he said.”