The Mystery of Seagrass Island (Chapter 17)

Margie settled down low into a back seat on the plane at Charleston International Airport. It was a joint civilian and military airport so she noticed a few sailors in their Cracker Jack dress blues walking around outside on the tarmac. They looked younger than her own children. She wondered for a moment if she was too old for this and then immediately shook that thought away. I’m not too old until I’m dead, she thought with a smile to herself.

Her attention soon switched to her cramped quarters. She was not a large person but it always surprised her how close together the seats were on flights. The flight to the first and only stopover was only two hours. Hopefully the seats on the plane she had to board at Washington Dulles International Airport would be a little bigger. A good reminder to stay on my diet if I plan to keep traveling, she thought to herself. She turned off the light over head with a quick flip of the switch and turned on her backlit e-reader. Keeping her face in a book was always a good way to stay hidden.

Occasionally, she peeked over the seat, trying to notice when Brandy boarded the plane. Brandy was supposed to be in the front right quadrant and since there were bathrooms in the front and back of the plane, she should not have to cross direct paths with her.

Margie began to worry that Brandy was not going to make it onto the plane in time. Then a shrill voice pierced the normal hum of voices. “Why can’t I just hold my bag in my lap?  I don’t see how that is going to inconvenience anyone. Who do I need to talk to about this?” Brandy said.

“You will need to stow your bag under the seat in front of you during take-off or I will have to ask you to get off of the plane. This is your choice, of course.” The stewardess spoke slowly and calmly with a firm smile.

Margie watched as Brandy grumbled and placed her bag under the seat and the stewardess continued her way down the aisle.

Margie went back to reading her book, although everyone else on the plane seemed to be enjoying the show between Brandy and the stewardess, eagerly watching to see if it were really over.

The flight was quick and painless with a smooth landing in in the airport located just outside of Washington D.C. Margie took her time disembarking, making certain that Brandy was ahead of her. Since she knew which flight Brandy was getting on next, she did not need to stay right with her, she just needed to keep from being spotted. Margie stopped at the first coffee shop she spotted, Capitol Grounds Coffee. After she ordered a Romano sandwich with mozzarella and tomatoes because it seemed appropriately Italian, she decided to have a café-au-lait because a little bit of caffeine is always a good thing.

As she sat enjoying her meal, she saw Brandy walk by absent-mindedly talking on her cell phone. Margie wished she knew what she was saying. After finishing her coffee, she needed a place to sit without being spotted. She sat in the boarding area across from her own and surreptitiously watched.

Looking around thoroughly, she decided that Brandy was not there yet. She approached the information desk and asked to speak to boarding assistance. The airline representative took her name and looked up her special instructions in the computer.

“Come with me, Ma’am,” he said in a business-like manner.

Margie followed him dutifully as he escorted her onto the plane in advance once again. He took her ticket information and directed her to the back left rear area of the plane.

“Thank you,” she said.

Margie settled in and noted that there wasn’t very much more legroom on this flight but it was a larger plane. Pillows with disposable covers and small thin blankets adorned every seat. She texted Lloyd to let him know that she had successfully boarded.

Brandy was one of the first passengers to board this time but she wasn’t causing any trouble. Margie noticed that she stumbled just a bit as she sat down. Ah, she thought to herself, she must have needed some liquid courage. Not a frequent flyer perhaps. Well, she may sleep for a while then and that would make for a nice uneventful flight.

The elderly lady seated next to Margie reached into her tattered bag and pulled out a shiny new tablet. Margie’s jaw dropped for a second.

“What did you expect I was getting out, dear?  My knitting?” she chuckled to herself.

 “No, I just…” Margie began and then noticed that the sweet little old lady was having a good laugh.

“I do wish it was easier to see though,” she said as she wiped at the glowing screen.

“May I?” Margie asked as she reached towards her glasses.

“Oh yes, please,” she said.

Margie pulled a tissue from her own bag and wiped the smudges off the lenses. “This may clear your vision up,” she said as she handed them back.

“Much, much better,” the lady said. “I can even see you clearly now.” She smiled and put out her hand to shake with Margie.

Margie smiled and thought to herself. So much for staying incognito. I just got “made” by a little old lady. Margie settled into her nap and the little old lady began playing Candy Crush.

When the plane finally landed at the Fiumicino Airport in Rome it was in the afternoon, but it felt like early morning to Margie. Jet lag is not going to be fun, she thought. Once again Margie hung around at the back of the line as she went through immigration and customs. She wanted to make sure that Brandy was far enough ahead of her that she would not see her. The Vatican City was only half an hour’s drive from here by taxi but Margie had no idea which hotel Brandy was planning to stay in. It would be easy to lose her in a city this large and much more difficult to locate her from her credit card purchases than it would be in the states.

Her plan worked almost too well. When Margie was finished, Brandy was nowhere to be found. At first she panicked, and then she had an idea. She called the airport with her phone and asked to speak to Brandy. The loudspeakers soon announced for Brandy Harris to report to the service desk for a call. Margie stood out of sight and waited for Brandy to approach the desk. Less than five minutes passed before Brandy showed up. She spoke into the phone for a moment, then shook her head and hung up. This time I won’t lose her, thought Margie as she followed closely behind.

Thankful that she had traveled light, she picked up her one piece of luggage and waited for Brandy’s three large bags to come down the conveyor belt. Brandy waved some money around until one of the drivers noticed and took her and her bags to a taxi. “Take me to the Hotel Gravina San Pietro, rapidamente per favore,” Brandy said.

Margie repeated the same thing to the taxi she spotted sitting on the curb waiting for a passenger. When she arrived at the hotel, Brandy was just entering the hotel to check in. Margie stepped out of the taxi and handed the driver some bills. “Grazie,” he said and drove off.

Margie stood there holding her one piece of luggage and her handbag and took in the view. She could see the Vatican from here. It was finally sinking in that she was in Rome. She took a deep breath and walked up to the unassuming glass doors that led into the hotel. Brandy had already headed for the stairs. As she walked to the desk, the clerk smiled at her in welcome.

“Do you speak English?” Margie asked.

“Yes, of course,” she said with a thick Italian accent.

“I’m following a friend of mine who is in my church group. I think she just checked in. Reddish hair, talks a lot?” Margie smiled. “Could you put me in a room next to her perhaps?”

“Of course, she is on the first floor. Let’s see. Room 33 sound good?”

“Yes, that is wonderful. First floor you say?” Margie asked.

“Oh yes, first floor here in Italy is called second floor in US. Si?”

“Si. It has been a while since I have been to Italy. Hopefully I my memory will return soon,” Margie jested.

“Oh no, you have lost your memory?” the desk clerk asked.

“No, not really. Never mind. Thank you so much,” Margie said while making a mental note not to make jokes with people who don’t speak English well.

“Si, you too be careful,” the clerk said with a worried look.

Margie carried her bag up the stairs, listening for Brandy’s voice, but she was nowhere to be seen. She managed to get into her room and sit on the bed and relax for a moment.

After checking in with Lloyd and jiggling the air conditioner controls, which didn’t seem to be working, Margie stepped out onto the balcony to admire the view. It felt wonderful to remove the heavy wig and all the hair pins which held it into place. She laid them on the ornate table and placed her tinted glasses beside them. While leaning on the wrought iron rail, she admired all that splendor that the Lord provided and could not help but count her blessings. The evening sun was setting and the moon was climbing past the Michelangelo-designed dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. Margie was afraid to breathe and ruin the moment.

To be continued…

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