When his shift ended, Juan did not furtively smuggle the woman out of the airport. He knew how to avoid looking suspicious. Confidently he took her arm, escorted her to his car in the employee parking lot, unlocked the passenger door, and invited her to take a seat. The woman was trembling the entire way, but she managed to stand straight, to walk as if with confidence, and to keep her face calm. The exit gate of the parking lot opened in response to Juan’s magnetic card, and soon they were in traffic, driving just like every other vehicle on the road.
At his apartment building, Juan adopted the same nonchalant manner. He even held the woman’s hand in the elevator and as they walked down the hall. He pulled out his keys, unlocked his door, and invited the woman to have a seat on the couch while he got them each a can of soda from the fridge.
He sat in a chair. Each of them sipped from their cans of soda. The woman—Juan was increasingly thinking of her as Laura—began to thank him again, but Juan waved his hand through the air. “Remember—this is for a very short time, until you come up with a better plan,” he told her.
Then the telephone rang.
The call was from his supervisor. “Juan, this afternoon at work, did you see a young woman with dark hair, running? About five-three, well endowed, maybe thirty years old?”
Juan hesitated only briefly. “A woman matching that description ran past me a little after noon. A man was following her.”
“That must be her. Did you see her again after that?”
“No,” Juan said. He reasoned that technically he was not lying—she had not left his sight, so he could say that he hadn’t seen her “again.” “Why do you ask?” Juan said.
His supervisor sighed. “She escaped from a mental institution. Evidently, with all this talk about the event at the airport two days ago, she’s become convinced that she is Laura Kinser. I gather that there is a similarity in appearance. Either she’s still roaming around the airport, or she slipped out through one of the employee exits. We’re all being told to keep an eye out for her.” He paused, and then added, “She’ll probably be found before you’re on duty tomorrow, but if she’s not, do remember to watch for her. Let me know if you see her or get any news about her.”
Juan agreed that he would do so, then hung up the phone, deep in thought.
She let a couple of minutes go by before softly saying, “That was about me, wasn’t it?”
“What did they tell you?”
“He said that a woman escaped from the hospital and somehow got to the airport. They say that she thinks she is Laura Kinser, who we all know died in a plane crash two days ago.” He pointed to the morning paper. “You can read all about the crash if you wish.”
She began to reach for the newspaper, then stopped. “You read it,” she said to him. “You tell me what it says.”
“Your plane took off, and then it exploded. They found your body—well, part of your body—in the wreckage. Your purse was there with your ID.” He gestured again toward the newspaper. “It’s all there in black and white.”
“Things are not always as they seem,” she said in a mysterious tone of voice.
“Laura, I was on duty at the time. I saw the explosion. No one could have survived it, believe me.”
“All you know is that someone flying my airplane died in an explosion. They had my purse with them. Someone is going through a great deal of trouble to make it seem that I have died, to the point that someone was willing to die in the charade.” Her voice trembled as she beseeched Juan, “Please believe me. I know it’s a lot to swallow, but I really am Laura Kinser, and I am very much alive.”
Juan shook his head. “You’re right,” he said. “It is hard to believe what you say. No I’m not accusing you of anything, and the offer still stands—you can stay for a night or two. All the same, it’s even more important now that you find a place to go afterward.”
She sighed. “I don’t look like the Laura Kinser you see on TV,” she acknowledged. “I’m missing all the make-up, the jewelry, and the bright-colored clothing. I guess it doesn’t matter whether or not you believe me. But if I can’t convince you, when you saw me at the airport, how am I going to convince anyone else now?”
“Surely there must be someone who can recognize your voice, or who knows things about you that no one else knows. You must have some friend, some family member, who can identify you.”
She shook her head. “My parents have been dead for years. No brothers, no sisters. The people at work only know me as an actress—they’re not friends. And as for dates… well, ever since high school I haven’t been out with the same man more than twice.”
Juan didn’t know how to respond. After a minute or two of awkward silence, Laura—that is, the woman who claimed to be Laura—shyly inquired, “May I ask another favor?” When Juan nodded, she said, “I really need a shower—it’s been a couple of days. Do you mind?”
“Of course not,” Juan replied. “I’ll get you a washcloth and a towel. You can use my soap and my shampoo. Oh, and there’s a new toothbrush in its wrapper I can let you use. The toothpaste is in the medicine chest.”
While she showered, Juan turned on the television to watch a ball game. Three innings later he heard her voice again. “Juan?” she said quietly. He looked away from the TV. She was wearing nothing but the towel.
“Do you have a t-shirt I could borrow? I hate that shirt they gave me to wear.”
Juan wanted to ask how her kidnappers had forced her to change her clothes, but now was not the time for that. He tried not to stare at her, but he noticed how her clean hair was beginning to curl as it dried. “Any particular color?” he asked. Laura shrugged, then grabbed the towel with both hands to keep it from slipping. Juan went into his bedroom, found a red t-shirt, and brought it to her. She retreated to the bathroom to get herself dressed.
A few minutes later she was out again. “One last favor,” she said. “I’m starving. Set me free in your kitchen—I’ll see what you have, and I’ll whip up a supper for both of us.”
Juan watched the rest of the baseball game while she cooked. She put together a surprisingly tasty casserole of ground beef, macaroni, canned tomatoes, and cheese. Juan envied Laura’s talent at blending herbs and spices; he had a fairly good selection, but he always followed recipes. What she had produced was noticeably more flavorful.
After they had eaten, Juan told her, “I have to be at work early in the morning, so I have an early bedtime. I hope you will excuse me.” He locked the door of his bedroom, hoping that she would not be offended. Juan read for more than an hour before turning out the light and going to sleep.
To be continued… J.