I'm leaving, on a jet plane.
Don't know when I'll be back again.
-Peter, Paul and Mary
The two women sat side by side in business class while the plane waited on the runway to take off.
"You know, I don't think I have ever seen a person turn that color, have you?" Aeron was still trying to draw out her sulking bodyguard. BJ had threatened her within an inch of her life not to send out the streaming video clip of her running from the teddy bear, and was still sulking that Aeron had scared her so badly.
"Yeah," BJ replayed the last little conversation that Aeron had with the hotel office manager. She started to smile at how frustrated the man was getting because Aeron wouldn't tell him what she found, only that she would make sure he got a copy of the report after she wrote it.
"I think that was the closest I've ever seen a man throw a temper tantrum without actually kicking his legs on the floor and screaming." Aeron was noticing the visible thawing of her bodyguard. It was a long flight and the doctor was determined to get BJ on her side once again.
"I like the final touch you put on it. How did you phrase that again? Because of the excellent service and consideration we have received during our stay here, I will make sure to add your name to the distribution list of my final report.' That was classic."
"Well, whatever freaky things are going on in that hotel, Mr. Li is up to his eyeballs in it. I'm just glad we're out of there. I want to go back to finding real ghosts."
BJ looked at the doctor in surprise. "You mean there are real ghosts out there?"
"Of course! Why do you think we get paid to find them?" Aeron looked quizzically at the ex-officer. "Did you think all I went around doing was finding scams like this?"
"Well, yeah. I did. I don't believe in ghosts."
Aeron laughed, "You will soon. I admit that most of the time I find fakes. Not as well done as this one. There had to be a lot of money and technology tied up in that room. Holograms, speakers, subdued lighting. It was incredible. It took me forever to find everything and tap into the feed. Though it was worth it." The doctor started snickering again.
BJ looked pained. "It wasn't that funny."
"Yes it was. You just don't want to watch the video."
"I have to admit, you got me back good for the water."
"Yes I did." Aeron looked insufferably pleased with herself. "And Skeeter didn't help me hardly at all."
"Usually the good revenge ideas come from him."
The bodyguard tried to hide her surprise. "Ok." I'll just agree with her. She's mostly harmless and a lot of fun. Who cares if she's whacked. And cute. Very cute.
The two women settled down to watch one of the many in-flight movies offered in business class and select their meals from the menu passed out by the stewardess.
"OK, now I have to show you how to write a report on our findings. This way, I can email them both from the plane, and we can go right home instead of going to the office. Especially with your black eye" explained Aeron as she pulled out her laptop.
"Hotel." clarified BJ.
"What?" asked Aeron.
"I have to find a hotel. I don't have an apartment in San Francisco yet. In fact, all of my stuff is sitting somewhere in Navy storage, waiting for me to tell them where to take it. I think my car is on a boat, in transit from Hawaii or something. I flew in for an interview, got hired and was sent to Singapore within 72 hours."
"Oh," said Aeron. "Well, you are coming home with me then. You'll never find a hotel at a normal rate at this late date, if you find a hotel at all. Between tourism and business travelers, and I think this week is Semicon anyway, you will not find a hotel closer than Sacramento. Plus, you'll scare people wandering around looking like that. I have a couple of extra bedrooms, and I think one of them even has a bed in it." Aeron looked thoughtful. "Yes, I think the last renter left a futon and I just haven't gotten around to getting rid of it."
"You had renters?" questioned BJ.
"Yes. It was the only way I could pay off the mortgage when I first started. I rented a room in a house with 5 other women. This was just once I got started in grad school. We really all didn't get a long and the front door should have been replaced with one of those revolving ones. Anyway, it was toward the end of my last years of my doctorate, when I found out that we all were getting evicted because the landlady had taken a 2nd and 3rd mortgage out on the house and hadn't been paying the mortgages. That was really strange, since she lived in Colorado, and our combined rent more than paid for the cost of the 2 mortgages. I found out before the others, since I had been there the longest, I was responsible for collecting everyone's rent check and sending them off. I talked to my advisor, since I was in a panic because I had 30 days to find a new place and I had to defend my thesis in a little less than 2 months. Stressed was not the word." Aeron shivered in remembrance. "So Dr. Post asked if I had checked into whether or not I could buy the house from the bank. I thought he was joking, but the more I thought about it, the better it sounded. Now remember, this is right before the dotcom insanity so the cost of housing hadn't risen exponentially. Dr. Post pointed out that I had already been offered and accepted a position here in the Bay Area, and I could actually get the house for a good deal. The renters would defray the cost of the mortgage while I was still in school, and when I actually started collecting a paycheck; I could afford the payments myself. I had my insurance money from my parents' life insurance, talked to the bank and my landlady, and managed to get the house. I didn't tell my fellow renters that I was now the landlady and things continued on the same way. Only, after I graduated, I stopped putting an ad in the paper for more roommates. The last one moved out 18 months ago when she broke up with her girlfriend. The best part is, because I kept the roommates for as long as I did, I was able to pay off the bulk of the mortgage early and I will be totally out of debt next year!"
BJ looked thoughtful, and then asked, "So what about a tax shelter?"
"Huh?" asked Aeron
"Did you talk to your accountant before you decided to pay off your house early? Because you just lost a great tax write off."
The doctor sputtered, "I thought the American Dream was to pay off all your debts?"
BJ laughed, "No, the goal is to pay off all your debts before you retire. A house is a great place for a tax write off, but now you don't have a deduction."
Aeron looked confused.
The bodyguard sighed, "OK, when we get back home and get some sleep, I'll explain personal finance 101. We might be able to fix this by taking out another mortgage on your home, and using the cash to purchase a rental property or two."
"Why would I want to get another two mortgages when I just paid off this one?"
"OK, you are really smart with this stuff," BJ tapped the laptop, "but I grew up in the house of a CPA. Trust me. We need to have a little tutoring session." BJ patted a forlorn looking doctor on her shoulder. "It's ok Aeron, you don't have to be a whiz at all things mathematical."
"But I should have known this stuff. I like math. I had to take Econ in college!" Aeron almost wailed.
"Sshsh. Aeron, it's ok. 90% of the population of the United States doesn't know these kinds of things. I do because of what my dad did for a living. He also made sure to have rental properties so that when he retired, he'd have supplemental income so mom could take all the trips she wanted to. It's no big deal. You know lots of stuff that I don't." BJ reached across the center consol of the seats and gave the doctor an awkward hug. "If it makes you feel any better, when you are in your element, I feel like an idiot standing next to you, and I know how smart I am." BJ pulled back and tried to get Aeron to look her in the eye. "Look, you're supposed to teach me how to fill out these report things, right?" At Aeron's nod, BJ continued. "Good! I always heard that if you drink at altitude, it takes less alcohol. Since I'm too cheap to drink when I'm in coach, and they don't serve alcohol on military transports, I want to test that theory. So hurry up and get work stuff out of the way so we can drink." The bodyguard wiggled her eyebrows seductively.
Aeron laughed at BJ and opened up the laptop. "OK, here's the template for the report format. You start off filling in these blanks with the place and the case number. Over here, put your name and employee number. Now, in this part, you summarize your findings. This is where the non-scientist type people get all their information. Use small words. Now this part is the really important part. This is where you put the important stuff, and normally, don't leave out even the smallest detail." Aeron stabbed the screen with emphasis. "Even the slightest little thing may help the future investigators, so it's important to put everything down. I'll let you read my report for this one, and you put everything down in your report, including," and at this, Aeron glared at her bodyguard, "you getting your ass kicked in the hotel alley." BJ shrank down in her seat and mumbled. "What was that?
"I didn't get my ass kicked."
"Yes you did. You said so yourself. I can't let Emily see you until you can hide your eye with make up. I don't care how good you are, an eye that is swollen shut cannot be hidden with make up. We'll tell her you're house hunting or something." Aeron looked bashful. "Of course, you are welcome to stay as long as you want in my house. If you like it there, we'll work out a rent arrangement."
"Do I get my own phone line? I want my own phone line, cable in my room, and a pool. Oh, and maid service. Oh, and a pool girl, a cute pool girl." BJ gave Aeron an evil little grin.
Aeron just returned BJ's grin and raised her eyebrow in question.
BJ rethought her last statement. "I just outed myself, didn't I?" At Aeron's nod, she sighed. "I take it you don't have a problem with it?" Aeron just laughed.
"Um BJ, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I went to school at Stanford. Now I'm sure the lesbian population at Stanford is nowhere near that at Berkley, but there are one or two. In fact, some of my roommates were lesbians. No, I don't mind. I consider you a friend and unless you turn out to be a serial killer I think I'll keep you around. Besides, Skeeter likes you and he's a great judge of character."
And we were doing so well, thought BJ. Sigh, except for Skeeter, she's so great. Well, even with Skeeter she's great. BJ had an evil thought. I wonder if I can take her home with me for Thanksgiving and have her pretend to be my girlfriend?
"What are you grinning about?" asked Aeron.
"I was hoping you would come home with me for Thanksgiving. You would send my mom over the edge, especially if you pretended to be my girlfriend." Did I say that out loud? Oh shit!
Aeron was in shock. She wants me to come home with her? To meet her family? Wow! And I certainly wouldn't mind pretending to be her girlfriend. Aeron blushed. Where did that come from?
BJ was taking in Aeron's silence as discomfort. "Look, I'm sorry. I know we just met and all, but I like you. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. I know that Thanksgiving is 4 months away, but I thought "
"No! I mean, no. You didn't make me uncomfortable. The only person that's ever invited me anywhere for a holiday is Emily. I was just in shock," Aeron smiled weakly.
"Oh, so you wouldn't mind meeting my family?" grinned BJ.
"I've always wanted to meet the parents who named their child Buffy'. And Bambi? What was your mother thinking?" Aeron shook her head. "OK, work time. Now comes the fun part: The Expense Report!"
The flight attendant coming through the cabin handing out heated towels to the passengers woke BJ up. OK, note to self. No drinking on flights. The hangover is not worth the trouble. The bodyguard took the offered towel from the attendant with a painful thank you. She leaned over and shook Aeron's shoulder. The doctor woke up easily, having learned from her earlier experience to not have more than one or two cocktails. Seeing Aeron's amused glance as the bodyguard peeked out from beneath the cloth she was now using to cover her sensitive eyes, the dark haired woman managed a growl at her boss.
"Not a word!" muttered BJ
"I haven't said a thing," responded Aeron brightly. "Not going to mention a single solitary I told you so' either."
"You better not!" came the grumpy response.
"I think the attendant wants her towel back. She's standing there patiently with her tongs."
BJ sighed and returned her towel to the smugly smiling flight attendant. Since the attendant was the same one who brought the bodyguard all of her drinks, BJ was sure the attendant was laughing at her predicament. She nudged Aeron with her elbow. "I didn't do anything did I? I think I passed out."
"Well, you did proposition the flight attendant, a passing passenger and myself, but other than that, no," remarked Aeron offhandedly as she went through her backpack to make sure she had everything.
"What!" squawked BJ. When all the other passengers turned around, she blushed and hissed at Aeron. "Are you joking?"
"Nope," replied Aeron as she tucked Skeeter into his normal spot on her backpack. "Though the flight attendant seemed rather upset once she realized you were drunk and probably didn't mean it. This was after she brought you back that last Cape Cod before you passed out. I guess she heard you ask that other lady coming back from the bathroom to be your date for this evening when you paint San Francisco lavender." Aeron looked puzzled. "I thought the expression was paint the town red."
BJ held her aching head between her hands. "I'll explain it to you later. I propositioned you too?"
Aeron had finished packing up her stuff and was in the process of making sure all of BJ's stuff was packed up. "Yes. I was the first person you asked."
"I didn't insult you or anything, right?" BJ didn't really feel like finding a hotel at this point and hoped that the doctor wasn't mad enough at her to rescind her offer of a place to stay.
"Nope. I figured it had been a long time, sailor," Aeron grinned evilly. Had BJ been less hung over, she might have noticed the look as one similar to the one Aeron wore while plotting revenge for the water treatment. As it was, the only thing BJ was concentrating on was keeping her lunch down until after they were in the terminal. Airplane restrooms just sucked for getting sick in.
"How much longer until we land?"
Aeron, noticing the green tinge to her companion, decided to forgo anymore teasing until after the bodyguard had recovered. "Thirty minutes. Then we go through customs. It should be a breeze since we just have two backpacks and a carryon."
"Good," said the bodyguard as she leaned back into her seat and closed her eyes.
The plane landed without a hitch, and the two women found themselves in the customs line, waiting for their turn.
"Are you sure we filled out these forms correctly?" whispered BJ nervously.
Aeron glanced over, amused at her usually unflappable bodyguard's demeanor. "Yes. Are you sure you've been overseas before? You act like you've never been through custom's before."
"I haven't," mumbled the dark haired woman as they moved closure to the custom's agent.
"Excuse me? What do you mean you haven't? I thought you said you've been all over the world?" Aeron was starting to get upset.
"I've always traveled on military transport," explained BJ. "It's very unusual for us to actually go through customs, and that's only if we land at a civilian airport. I haven't, so I've never really been through customs."
Aeron blinked a couple of times and looked over at her friend, who was shifting nervously from foot to foot. "Well stop acting nervous for one thing, or I guarantee we are going to get searched!" she snapped. "We have nothing to declare, we have brought no food with us, and we are US citizens, so we don't have to bother with a visa. Now stop fidgeting." The red head scolded her companion.
To BJ's surprise, all the custom agent did was look at her passport, look at her, ask her if she brought any fruit or vegetables into the country and send her on her way. BJ grinned at Aeron after the doctor had passed through customs herself. "You were right. Piece of cake!"
Aeron began hurrying through the airport, with a sputtering bodyguard on her trail. "Hey! Slow down. What's the rush?"
"Need I remind you what happened the last time we were in an airport?" tossed Aeron over her shoulder. "I want to go home, get into my suit, and jump in the pool."
BJ stopped dead. "You have a pool? That is so cool! Hey! Wait up!" she cried hurrying to catch up with the doctor. A group of people separated her line of sight from Aeron for a moment. When the crowed passed, she could no longer see the red head. BJ sped up, hoping that Aeron did not leave her behind in this unfamiliar airport.
Passing one of the numerous hallways that contained bathrooms and executive clubs, a flash of movement caught her eye. She saw a man in a dark jacket shove Aeron through an unmarked door.
"Aeron!" cried BJ. She dropped her carryon and shrugged off her backpack as she went charging down the hallway. The bodyguard burst into the room behind the door to see it was some kind of break room. The man she saw shoving the doctor was just disappearing through a doorway that was on the other side of the room. BJ ran across the room and hit the door before it completely closed. The hallway on the other side was utilitarian and had a T-branch to the right. As the bodyguard started to turn left, something hit her from that side.
BJ rolled with the hit and spun, grabbing her attacker's arm and elbow and leading him into the doorframe she just came through. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Aeron being held by a second man from behind. The second attacker had his hand over the doctor's mouth and a knife to her throat.
BJ followed up the first attacker's close encounter with the doorframe with a knee kick to the right kidney, and when he slumped down a knee kick to the temple that laid him out. She spun to face the second attacker, who hadn't released Aeron during the short struggle between the bodyguard and his buddy.
"How about you let my friend go and we forget this whole thing ever happened?" suggested BJ as she inched towards the attacker.
The man sneered over Aeron's shoulder and the bodyguard got a good look at the man who was holding the doctor at knife point. "So, you remember me?" the man asked in Mandarin. He pressed the knife a little harder into the red head's neck, drawing a drop of blood.
"Let her go. Your fight is with me, not her," the bodyguard replied in the same language, her eyes narrowing.
"Your friend here is just going to do what I say and then she's free to go."
"What do you want?"
The man started to run the knife up and down Aeron's neck, causing the doctor's eyes to widen and drawing whimpers of fear from the red head.
BJ pleaded with her eyes for Aeron to trust her. The doctor seemed to read the message, for her wild look of panic faded slightly and the whimpering stopped.
"My associates and myself want the good doctor to write her report to say what we want it to say. That she found nothing to suggest either a haunting or any devices to encourage people to believe the place is haunted. Once she turns in her report, I will leave her alone."
"Are you going to follow her to her offices to make sure that is what she turned in?" demanded BJ.
The man licked the doctor's ear and pointed the knife at BJ. "No. I will simply wait for the doctor to return from turning in the report at her house with you. After I receive confirmation from my source about the information in the report, I will let you go."
BJ pretended to think about this while seething inside. I bet that prick thinks he can kick my ass again. Of course, as far as I know, he can kick my ass again.
"OK, we will do that. Let's go so we can get this over with. Let the doctor go now."
The man gave Aeron's neck one last little kiss, never taking his eyes off of BJ. He slowly removed the hand from over the doctor's throat and lowered the knife. BJ grabbed Aeron and gave the red head a crushing hug. "Don't scare me like that ever again," she whispered.
Aeron merely nodded into BJ's neck, silent tears starting to fall. The bodyguard rubbed her friend's back in a comforting manner while glaring at the smirking man.
"Come! We are wasting time!" he barked.
"Aeron, this gentleman wants us to go to your house. He will leave me there while you go see Emily and give her a report saying that you didn't find any ghosts or anything that could make people think there were ghosts." BJ looked hard at Aeron, hoping she got the idea. Since both woman had written the reports and attached them to an email sent out from the plane, the plan was to buy time for BJ to think of something to get them out of this situation.
"OK," said a subdued doctor, "We have to take the train. I didn't drive up here."
BJ communicated this to the attacker, who frowned. "No! We will take a taxi. Pick up my associate."
"Doc, he wants us to take a taxi. Give me a hand with this guy." BJ reached down to sling an arm of the unconscious form of the first attacker over her left shoulder. Aeron reached down and mirrored the bodyguard's stance on the man's other side.
"I don't think I have enough money to take a taxi," said Aeron, "I live in San Jose. I hope they take plastic. How are all 4 of us going to fit?"
"I don't know. I'm think of a plan here," answered BJ.
"No talking!" ordered the man.
That's when BJ realized that he probably didn't speak English. The two women carried their burden back through the break room and out into the concourse. BJ's discarded luggage was starting to gather attention, and Aeron could see police officers approaching from further down the concourse. "Slow down," hissed the doctor.
The bodyguard's eyebrow quirked.
"The cops are coming. You left your bags alone. Slow down," Aeron whispered out of the side of her mouth. Aeron then pretended to stumble, and dropped the arm that she was holding. The sudden drag caused BJ to overbalance and get tangled up in the now weakly struggling man's legs. Both the bodyguard and the attacker fell down, causing a small crowd to gather around. Aeron glanced up and saw one of the officers step around a family and start toward them. She dove to the floor as she yelled, "That man has a gun!" and pointed at the second attacker.
The officers reacted instantly to the threat. Both pulled their firearms and yelled, "Freeze!" to the man now looking around in panic. The crowd around them panicked and started running away, some of the crowd releasing screams. More officers showed up from different parts of the terminal and Aeron could see several of them talking into shoulder mikes.
"I don't think he speaks English!" called out the doctor from her place on the floor. She glanced over to where BJ was laying motionless on the floor. "BJ?" the doctor called out.
"I'm OK, but I'm not moving," replied the bodyguard.
The man was whirling around in panic, trying to find an escape route. He started back down the hallway the group had come from.
"I wouldn't do that. They will shoot you. You look like a terrorist to me," called out BJ in Mandarin.
One of the officers overheard the comment and started shouting for the man to lay down face first on the ground in Mandarin. The second attacker, having no place to run to, complied with the officer's shouted commands. "This is not over!" he hissed.
BJ met his eyes as he glared at her across the floor and smirked.
The two exhausted women piled into the back of the taxi many hours later. After explaining to the San Francisco Police Department, then the Air Marshals, plus Airport security, the FBI and several other unidentified people in black suits, the two travelers were more than ready to go home.
"I don't think that man is going to be going anywhere for a while," commented Aeron.
"Nope," replied BJ, "I think there are a few different agencies that really want to talk to him. I think I saw a couple of the suits in the hallway playing rock, paper, scissors' for his ass." The bodyguard was leaning back against the seat and had her eyes closed. "Hell of a way to get over a hangover." She opened her eyes and faced Aeron. "You scared the shit out of me, you know that?"
"Me? You falling down like that and not getting up I thought that asshole had stabbed you!" Aeron glared at her bodyguard. "Don't do that again! I don't have many friends so it's not like I can afford to lose you!"
BJ grinned at Aeron, "You're cute when you get all red in the face."
"Cute? Cute! Why I outta " the rest of the sentence was lost to incoherence.
The bodyguard leaned back against the seat. "Do you think Emily will let us fly separate from now on? Every time I've been with you in an airport I've been attacked." This just increased the sputtering indignation coming from the seat next to her.
"Do you want to walk home?" Aeron finally managed to get out.
BJ opened one eye and rolled it toward her companion. "Nope." And shut her eye and feigned sleep.
The doctor sat back in the seat in a huff and pouted like a 4 year old; complete with the crossed arms and stuck out lower lip.
"Aeron?" asked the sleepy bodyguard.
"Yes?" came the sulky reply.
"I really liked working with you. Do you think Emily will let me..uff!" the rest of the sentence was cut off as Aeron's bone crushing hug caused the dark haired woman to let out an undignified squeak.
"Yes!" mumbled Aeron into BJ's chest. "Partners?" she asked as she looked up into blue eyes.
"Partners," declared BJ.
(for now ;p)
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