My head lolled lightly from one side to the other, almost, but not quite waking me. It was a pleasant dream, and as such, starred Maggie in the leading role. We worked together, side-by-side, in our garden. Never mind that we didn’t have a garden in real life. Mag and I had talked of it many times, and I always agreed, never actually getting around to starting one however. In the dream, I was a green-thumb; again, in real life—not so much. We spoke of little pleasant and precious things, there in our sunny garden. And I knew, with one-hundred percent clarity, that I was the luckiest man on the planet.
The pilot’s announcement finally brought me out of my brief slumber. I smiled at the best thing that had ever happened to me, and told her that I loved her. Maggie smiled wordlessly back at me, she being one of those that do not seem to be able to sleep on an airplane whatsoever. Me—I manage it in fits and bursts. It’s not a restful sleep however.
This time was no exception. By now, Maggie and I had spent enough time in the air to begin to be sick of it. The good news was that our destination was now not far off. The regional airport in Shreveport, Louisiana, to be precise. We had started our journey in a small private jet, and then a smaller yet single-engine prop. Now we were back to the other end of the spectrum—a Boeing 757-200. A good-sized aircraft in anybody’s book.
The plane was a charter, and was designed to hold a couple of hundred people. Today, it carried just two—Maggie and me—along with a flight crew of three. A pilot, co-pilot, and a hostess named Amelia. She looked around the right age to be working her way through college. Nice kid—friendly, and she did a wonderful job of keeping our coffee cups filled. She was well on her way toward a generous end-of-flight gratuity.
The plane looked like a flying cavern with its row upon row of empty seats. Maggie and I were settled in on the starboard side, in the roomier first-class section. The curtain into coach was wide open, but not a sound came from that area of the jet. It was an odd sensation—kind of like the feeling, I imagined, that a couple of survivors of some weird otherworldly thing would have, in the middle of a Stephen King horror novel.
Holman had chartered the plane, just for us. I’m a guy that doesn’t mind throwing around a bunch of money on occasion, but even I shuddered to think what it must have cost him. His own private jet was grounded in LA—the pilot a victim of an apparent case of stomach flu. Holman didn’t want to hold up my investigation, he explained. I also suspected that, once again, he didn’t mind passing up a chance to show that he was loaded.
It was what the man was made of—bravado—and big bucks.
And perhaps more than a few ulterior motives, as well.
I was learning more about him and strange sidekick as the countryside rolled by beneath us, courtesy of Wikipedia. There was plenty to read.
My initial assessment of Holman’s rise to fame was largely correct, just a bit out-of-date. He had made his rather sizable fortune in potty-humor teen comedies all right, but of late had upped his game to more substantial fare. Documentaries and historical pieces. The impetus for the late career quality upgrade was Mr. Vincent Dalgetty, the much peer-honored film star. He had met Dalgetty a few years before, and the friendship had been instant, he explained. I didn’t doubt it—where else would two egos that big have to go, but to each other.
Dalgetty had begun his acting career after just barely clearing the womb, starring first in baby product commercials, and then moving on to cute-kid cereal spots. Mom and dad—both parents and agents—were the driving force in his ascendency. Next up was a stint as a Disney kid. It was short lived however. Dalgetty might have been a darling little shaver, but apparently wasn’t aging well, and by the time he hit his late teens, the pretty-boy child actor was turning into a guy that was unlikely to snag the gal at the end of the movie. The big problemo?—he was ugly. So, he completed a sharp U-turn, and created a new career of not getting the girl—ever. What he got instead, was wildly successful, and incredibly wealthy.
In short—the guy could act, despite the stage-fright. He loved the camera’s eye, but shrunk before a live audience, turning to jelly every time. The theater was out for Mr. Dalgetty.
Now in his early fifties, he had amassed a resume of repute, and sprinkled with gold—Oscar gold. Dalgetty was known for turning down roles that were supposedly fail-proof, to take lesser parts that simply interested him. It paid off. Playing gangsters, crooked-cops, pirates, pimps, and other assorted odd-balls in everything from fantasy to docudramas. And occasionally, just for good measure—a hero—although good guys were not especially his forte. I glanced down the list of his films. I wasn’t particularly surprised to note that I had not seen any of them.
I made a mental note to try to get out to the movies more.
For a movie star, Dalgetty had engendered little scandal—another oddity.
The man we were on our way to meet in Shreveport was most decidedly not a movie star. Mr. Sabe Rees. It was a first name that I had not encountered before. I had messed it up pretty good when I spoke with his secretary earlier in the day. She had chuckled when I stumbled over it, pronouncing it “say-bee.” She corrected me immediately, even as she told me not to worry; absolutely everyone, she assured me, did exactly the same thing.
The actual pronunciation was just like “Gabe,” or “Abe,” only with a “S.” Unusual names always interest me, and as I had the Google-machine up and running, I plugged it in. An English/Welsh name, same as the surname Rees. Sabe, as it turned out, meant “Black,” and Rees, “Fiery-Warrior.” Didn’t sound much like the individual his secretary described to me. She might as well have been his professional agent and personal booster, as she told me that Mr. Rees was, “the human form of sunshine.”
I’ve known a lot of people in my life. Very few of them I would describe in such terms. Especially one that was, as Mr. Rees was, the Assistant District Attorney for the Northern District of the State of Louisiana. I’ve dealt with many a man that held that title, and putting it, along with “nice-guy,” in the same sentence was just a little bit more than oxymoronic.
His secretarial cheering section was my first surprise. The second was when she told me that Mr. Rees would be more than happy to meet with me at my convenience. “Just drop by anytime, Mr. O’Brien,” she had said. Amazing, I thought. At most District Attorney’s offices, private-investigator is a dirty word. Most times when I had dropped it, I was told to go somewhere all right, but not generally their office door.
Might turn out to be an interesting meeting, I thought.
The plane began a sharp descent in its final approach to the airport. The sky was clear and sunny, and offered a nice view of the countryside just outside Shreveport. Farms, homes, and a lot more gravel side-roads than are present in my neck of the woods. It had a friendly look to it, if such a thing can be said about scenery. Lots of bodies of water. Large, small, and long and narrow. Again, restful to the eye.
Plenty of green.
My mind drifted back to a motion picture that I had seen many years before. It was called Blue Velvet, an example of the neo-noir genre, an incredibly scary psychological horror film, and a perfect vehicle for the late, famous scenery chewing actor Dennis Hopper. The thing kept me awake for half the night after I saw it, and I’m not exactly a shrinking violet. It was set in a little fictitious burg called Lumberton, North Carolina. It’s a sweet looking place. Probably a lot of folk’s idea of the perfect spot to retire and settle down to some well-earned peace and quiet. Far from it. The opening credits roll over such bucolic scenes as the ones I watched below the belly of the plane. It’s all a façade, of course. Just under the surface of all that small-town sweetness and light, there lurks complete and utter turmoil. Not to mention a lot of pain, agony—and death.
I remembered my reading material of the night before, and the three thick dossiers enclosed in my briefcase.
I knew all is rarely ever as it seems at first glance. I knew we needed to be very careful here. I knew we were a long, long way from home.
And, I knew very well, that this place, might just be exactly like that one in the movie.
Thanks so much for reading. See you in a few days with Chapter Seven of INNOCENCE, by Lee Capp.