Juan stopped at a motel next to the highway on the edge of town. “I wonder if they’ll take cash for a room,” he said. “I really don’t want to use a credit card.”
“Let me put my feminine charm to work,” Laura suggested. “It might also require a little tip, but I think I can manage this.”
Ten minutes later, she was back in the car. “Did it work?” Juan asked. In answer, she showed him the cardkey. “What did you tell them?” he asked.
“Mostly, I told the truth,” she said, smiling. “I said I had been in an accident and my purse was lost with all my credit cards, my driver’s license, and other identification. The only lie I spoke was my name—I told them that I’m Martha Jones.” Juan smiled, and he moved the car closer to their room.
After unloading the car, the two drove down the road to a Walmart. Laura took some of Juan’s money and went shopping for clothes, while he wandered from department to department: outdoor furnishings and supplies, paint and home repair, automotive, toys, electronics—anything but clothing. When that bored him, Juan went to the front of the store and sat on a bench. Soon he saw Laura getting into a line for a cashier. He waved at her, and she smiled and waved back. Juan stayed on the bench until she had paid for her clothing, then stood up to join her.
As they walked through the doorway to the parking lot, they heard a firm voice behind them say, “Please stop, folks—I need to talk with you.”
Both were tempted to break into a run, but they controlled their fear and turned. The man who had spoken to them was wearing a dark suit and a tie. “I’d like to check your bags and your receipt, please,” he said in a gruff voice that clearly offered them no choice.
“Could we see some identification first?” Juan asked. The man shook his head. “I’m store security,” he said. “That’s all you need to know.” Juan wondered if he and Laura should just walk away, but it seemed safer not to cause a scene.
Wordlessly, Laura handed him her bags of clothing. With care he matched each item to the receipt. Then he reloaded the bags and handed them to her. “Now, sir, I’d like to check your pockets.”
“What’s all this about?” Juan asked.
“You were acting suspiciously in the store,” the man told him. “Just let me search you, and if I don’t find anything wrong, you’re free to go.”
Juan took his wallet and keys out of his pocket and handed them to Laura. So long as the man from Walmart didn’t demand to see identification, Juan thought, they would be fine. The man patted Juan’s pockets and also checked to see if Juan had anything between his shirt and his body. His touch was professional, and in less than a minute he was satisfied that Juan had stolen nothing. “I apologize for the inconvenience,” the man said, no trace of apology in his tone of voice. “Catching thieves saves you money, you know.” Without waiting for any acknowledgement, he turned and went back into the store.
Juan sighed loudly. Laura laughed and gave him his wallet and keys. They returned to the car and went back to the motel.
Laura went into the bathroom to change clothes. She left the door ajar, but Juan averted his eyes. He saw the television and decided to turn it on.
“Do you want to eat some of the food we brought, or should we go out for dinner?” Laura asked as the came out of the bathroom, but Juan hushed her. She didn’t like being ignored, but she understood when he pointed at the TV. She saw her own face looking back at her. A voice proclaimed, “Investigators today released their first findings regarding the explosion, evidence that the airplane had been sabotaged. No motive for the sabotage has been determined. Although personal items belonging to the actress were recovered, her body has not been found. The partially-burned body that was recovered from the scene was identified as a male in his thirties. The coroner indicated that the man suffered from a terminal case of lung cancer. His name has not been released.”
Laura dropped to the bed next to Juan. “It sounds like the investigation has gone well so far,” she told him. Her face had disappeared from the screen as the newscaster went on to a different story.
“They are still searching for your body at the airport,” Juan said. “They don’t realize that you’re alive.”
She reached out and stroked Juan’s hair. “Suddenly, that doesn’t seem so important,” she cooed.
Juan stood and said, “And they probably don’t know anything about the other man who kidnapped you.”
Laura sat up straight. “That other man…” she began angrily. Then she lay back on the bed and said more calmly. “That other man will be found soon enough.”
Juan didn’t know what to say, so he just nodded. Then he said, “Were you talking about dinner a little bit ago?”
They looked at a phone book and discussed their options. Westfield had several restaurants. Neither of them was in the mood for hamburgers or pizza, and Juan didn’t want to spend his money too quickly. They chose a Chinese food buffet, drove there, and ate their fill. Leaving the restaurant half an hour before sunset, they noticed a park with grass and trees and flowerbeds across the street. “Let’s go for a stroll,” Laura suggested.
As they walked through the park, Laura reached out and took his hand. He wanted to let go, but his hand felt good and also natural in hers. Neither of them spoke as they wandered from one flowerbed to another. The western sky became pink, then rosy, and then purple. Soon the evening star was glowing above the horizon.
“This is a perfect evening,” Laura said. “Every day should end this way.”
Juan saw some flying creatures—he did not know whether they were birds or bats. “I think the car is in this direction,” he said, turning away from the sunset and walking east, Laura’s hand still in his. Their closeness made Juan bold enough to inquire of her, “How did you get into acting? And do you enjoy it?”
Laura began telling the story she had told so many times before. She described a little girl growing up in a poor but happy family. When she was in high school, she suddenly decided to turn away from poverty and happiness in pursuit of fame, money, and loneliness. Skipping quickly over three years of waitressing, snatching food from plates the busboys had cleared from the tables so she could save her tips to buy make-up and clothes. She related how, without great expectations, she took part in an audition her agent recommended. The character made no sense to her, and the entire show seemed nonsensical, but the directors and the writer insisted that she was perfect for the part.
The show bombed. It never even appeared on a television screen outside the network offices. The director did not forget Laura. He kept in contact with her agent, invited her to three more auditions over the next two months, and also told his friends about her. One of his friends decided to take a chance on her. His show became a sensational hit. Now, four years later, Laura Kinser was riding the crest of public favor and adulation. That brought them to the present, to the sudden unexplained kidnapping and the staged plane crash and her escape.
“You know the rest,” she told Juan as they reached the car. “That’s all there is to tell. Anything else about my life,” she lied outrageously, “would be too boring to tell.”
As Juan drove back to the motel, Laura yawned. “It’s funny,” she said. “Half the world thinks I’m dead, and the other half probably thinks I staged the whole incident to take a long vacation. They’re probably imagining me on a beach in Tahiti or southern France, some place exotic like that.” She reached over and squeezed his shoulder. “Can’t say that I’m disappointed that they’re wrong.”
As they pulled into the motel parking lot, Juan said, “Tomorrow we can visit with an investigator I know here in town. He will be able to prove that you are who you say you are, and he can get the authorities started on track to find your kidnapper. That should just about wrap things up for me.” He put the car into park, and then he said, “What do you plan to do after that?”
Laura smiled. “I don’t know. Do you have any suggestions?”
Juan said, “You’ve told me several times how lonely you are. Now that we’ve spent all this time together—and now that we’re about to spend the night together in a motel room—well, would you be interested in having a boyfriend?”
In the dark car, Juan couldn’t see Laura’s face, but he could hear her low-pitched chuckle. “Maybe we should see how the night goes before I answer that question.”
“Listen,” Juan said quickly, “Nothing is going to happen between us tonight, not even if you say you want me as your boyfriend. I don’t move that fast.”
“Oh, please don’t be so old-fashioned,” Laura retorted. “Until now, I’ve wondered if you even liked me. You’ve been so distant, so cold, so… so gentlemanly it almost frightens me.”
“Not even like you?” Juan spluttered. “Laura, I’m crazy about you. I’d do almost anything for you. Why else would I set aside my job to protect you, to bring you out here where you’re safe, where you’ll have a chance to prove who you really are?”
“Oh, I appreciate that,” she said airily. “And I’m grateful, I truly am. But before you offer to be my boyfriend again, let’s try to do a few more romantic things together, OK?”
“OK,” Juan agreed. They left the car and went into their motel room.
When they went out for dinner, Juan had left his phone behind in the room. Returning, he saw that he had missed two calls from the same number, a number he did not recognize. Laura switched on the TV, so Juan walked down to the motel lobby. He made sure that his phone was programmed not to reveal his location, and then he returned the call.
“Hello,” a gruff, half-familiar voice answered.
“Yes, hello,” Juan responded. “You phoned me earlier this evening.”
“Is this Juan Rivera? The airport security guard?”
“It is indeed.”
“Juan, my name is Ron Lawrence.” When Juan gave no indication of recognizing the name, the voice continued, “I’m Laura Kinser’s husband.”
To be continued… J.