By Drusilla Winters


Winters


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FLIGHT 666—CHAPTER ONE: SARAH

Sarah Loth sat in a corner of the airport bar, nursing a mango margarita and waiting for her delayed flight. What she was really waiting for was a fresh start. Just her luck it would be delayed. She cast her mind back to her first fresh start on life, at the tender age of six, when she’d been forced to attend a boarding school full of snobs. How many fresh starts had she made since then? She’d lost count, but in the twenty years since that first fearful day at boarding school, she had learned a lot. She had learned how to use her considerable beauty and practiced charm to manipulate people’s emotions. She had learned how to use her seductive skills to live a life of luxury, beginning in her early teens. And she had learned how to lie, cheat, and steal to get what she wanted.

So why was she crying? She never cried except when she was putting on a performance for the benefit of some easily controlled sucker. But the fact that poverty was staring her in the face was very real. She was on her own again, with no resources except her looks and her artificial charisma. The thought of it was giving her a headache.

At least this flight wouldn’t cost her anything. Daddy still let her fly his precious Atherton Airlines for free, even though he’d disowned her for the supposed sin of never having worked a day in her life. But why should she work if she didn’t have to? She was proud of not being a wage slave. Too bad her old man didn’t own a taxicab company as well as an airline. Sarah looked around at the handful of other bar patrons and wondered if she might be able to make the acquaintance of some lone gentleman on her flight and get a ride with him after the plane landed. And if she had to pay for that ride with something other than money—which she had precious little of at the moment—what else was new? She raised her margarita, made a silent toast to herself, and downed the rest of it.

And then there was Gabriel. She probably should be glad her fiancé had kicked her to the curb. She had grown tired of him. She always grew tired of them, but he’d lasted longer than any of the others. He had also cheated on her, had probably even paid for a little on the side. Yeah, she was lucky he’d thrown her out—it saved her the trouble of having to orchestrate another ugly breakup scene. And his angry words and near-violent actions had allowed her to rationalize stealing his car to drive to the airport.

And who was really the loser? He’d never have better than her. He probably already regretted sending her packing, most likely would beg her to come back home if he had the chance. She looked over her shoulder toward the entrance to the bar. Or knock her senseless for swiping the Maserati.

Still, her ego was bruised, and she didn’t like it. She was the one who was supposed to be in control, not Gabriel, not anybody—just her. She’d find another lucky sucker and start again. It would be easy. It was what she was good at. So why did she keep thinking about him?

She ordered another margarita.

“You look thirsty.”

Sarah turned to see a dark-skinned man approaching her. He wore a smile that could melt chocolate.

“Bartender, put her drinks on my tab,” the man added with a wink, and then he introduced himself. “My name is Terrance Sully, but my friends call me T-Sul.” He pronounced his name as if it should be up in lights.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Skully,” she said, not sure why she had deliberately mispronounced his name, which she had recognized instantly.

He chuckled and said, “That’s Sully, but call me T-Sul. You might have heard of me.”

“Sorry, can’t say that I have,” she lied.

“Ever hear of the Love in Strange Places erotic video series?”

She shook her head. “Doesn’t ring a bell.”

He took the barstool next to her and ordered a margarita for himself and another round for her. “My flight has been delayed, and I saw you sitting by yourself. I figured you could use some company.”

“Sure, if you’re buying,” she replied.

“I am if you’re drinking,” he said.

“So, Mr. T-Sully, you must be headed to Seattle.”

“Just for a layover, then I’m off to Japan. But call me T-Sul, just plain T-Sul.”

“I’ve never been to Japan,” she cooed. “Are you going for business or pleasure?” At the word “pleasure” she raised her eyebrows slightly and gave him a vaguely enticing smile.

“Extended business trip. I’m considering relocating.”

“Tell me more,” she said, suddenly interested in this porn impresario who was dressed like a pimp. He was famous—infamous might be the more appropriate word—for filming, dating, and discarding sweet young bimbos, and rumor had it that he’d recently gotten himself into some kind of jam. Perhaps his trip to Japan was less about doing business in the Far East than it was about fleeing the U.S. Maybe if she played her cards right she could get something out of him before he fled and not have to worry about ever seeing him again. “Yes, do tell me more,” she repeated.

And he did. He told her a lot. He didn’t say much about Japan, though, at least nothing that rang true. Sarah was an accomplished liar, and she could usually tell when someone else was dissembling. Not that she cared. She let him chatter on about this and that—mostly about himself, what else was new?—and happily let him buy her drinks.

By the time their flight was ready to board, he was beyond having a mere buzz on and was approaching full-on intoxication. But Sarah had a secret weapon—she could out drink most men even while playing the part of a ditzy blonde lush. She let T-Sul hold her upright, pretending she was wobbly on her feet, but in reality he was far more in the bag than she was, and—what else was new?—she hoped to use that to her advantage.

They boarded the plane and turned into the aisle. After passing several rows, T-Sul said, “Here’s my seat. I would’ve been in first class flying bad-boy style if I hadn’t booked last minute.”

“Looks like I’m in the back,” Sarah said.

“Shoot,” T-Sul said. “Tell you what—I’ll convince whoever is sitting next to me to switch seats with you. Then we’ll get to spend a little quality time together before Seattle.”

He winked, and she winked back. They should give Oscars for real-life performances, she thought.

It took her a while to work her way to the back of the plane. She had to halt every few feet as people in front of her stopped to hoist bags into the overhead bins. She heard a child whining and thought it would be nice to stow him in an overhead bin as well. A chloroform-drenched hankie held over the lad’s face for a minute or two, and then a long nap among the carry-ons and garment bags. She chuckled at the thought. Too bad she didn’t have any chloroform. Gabriel probably could have gotten some. He was a doctor after all. Damn, there she went again, thinking about her stupid ex-fiancé. She’d have to stop doing that. She got to her row and took her seat by the window.

She closed her eyes and began to relax when she heard more whining, this time from two children in the aisle, whose mother, a Chinese woman who reminded Sarah of Gabriel’s ex-wife, was barking orders at them. Tiger moms of the world, unite, Sarah thought to herself, and then wondered how many chloroformed children it would take to fill all the overhead compartments.

The threesome finally settled down, only to be replaced by an even greater horror, the ultimate nightmare of every air traveler. Sarah was appalled. The immense creature trundling down the aisle and eyeing her row looked like a cross between a sauropod and the Hindenburg. His head was tiny yet fat, and his body was round yet misshapen. He made Orson Welles look like a runway model. Sarah held her breath and prayed. It didn’t do any good—what else was new? The monster entered her row and took the center seat, his quivering flesh spilling onto the seats on either side. Sarah recoiled, but she was sitting by the window and there was no place to go. The sight of the hideous hippopotamus was repellant but, in a way, also fascinating, and she couldn’t keep from staring. It was like watching a car wreck. But when she saw the smear of glistening chocolate decorating a corner of the thing’s blubbery mouth, she nearly heaved up her mango margaritas. She hoped T-Sul would come through with the seat exchange, but who, she wondered, would willingly give up a place in the front to sit next to Jabba the Hutt?

She stood up and slid past the monster and into the aisle. She headed for the lavatory and was nearly bumped by a man exiting. He reminded her of Gabriel, but she told herself to stop thinking such things.

Inside the lavatory, she peered into the mirror. The face of a tempting sex kitten stared back. The only shortcoming was her slightly bloodshot eyes. That’s why they call it the red-eye, she thought. She popped out her contact lenses and put a drop of artificial tears into each eye. It didn’t matter if she could see T-Sul clearly as long as he could see her. It was time to rock his world and see what developed. Who knew, she might even score herself a free trip to Japan.

The lights in the lavatory dimmed, flickered once, and died. She felt around in her handbag for the tiny flashlight she kept there, but the lights came back on before she found it. She looked into the mirror for a final check, and her heart nearly seized up at what she saw there. A skull was staring back at her. She jumped back and slammed against the door of the lavatory, but the awful vision in the mirror disappeared as quickly as it had come. Her lovely and sexy—if slightly ashen—face greeted her from the mirror. She exited the lavatory and returned to her seat. 

Sarah stopped at her row and peered toward the front of the plane, looking for T-Sul. No luck. She turned to the overstuffed ogre taking up most of the space and forced a smile. “Excuse me,” she said in as sweet a voice as she could muster.

Instead of getting up and letting her in, Moby Hick just turned slightly, barely moving his tree-stump legs. She grimaced as she squeezed past. After she took her seat, he turned to her, smiled with his sausage-like lips, and said, “Hello, my name is Tony.”

Tony ate too much baloney, she thought, but she nodded in his direction, whispered “Sarah,” and then immediately reclined her seat and closed her eyes, ending, she hoped, any chance of small talk, which, besides his tiny head, would have been the only small thing about this hulking whale of a passenger. Well, there was probably one other small thing about him, but she erased that disgusting thought from her mind before she barfed. Just in case there might be any doubt about her sociability, she withdrew an eye mask from a side pocket of her purse and put it on.

As the airplane began taxiing to the runway, Sarah pulled up one side of her mask and peeked out, looking for T-Sul. There was still no sign of him. She readjusted the mask and settled back, wondered if her daddy had been responsible for putting the Incredible Bulk next to her. And now, as if to add insult to injury, the cabin was becoming uncomfortably warm. Atherton Airlines was going to the dogs. Her entire body was overheated now. The Miss Piggy clone sitting next to her couldn’t be throwing off that much body heat, could he?

Something was seriously amiss. She was beginning to perspire, and she could feel her blood pulsing through her veins. She thought she heard the sound of rear van doors opening and shutting, followed by the sound of small wheels rolling on concrete.

Sarah ripped off her eye mask. She was surrounded by total darkness, and she felt as if she were falling. Her body went rigid, her heart was racing. The darkness dissolved, and she saw bright lights whizzing above her. She was lying on her back, strapped onto something like a hospital gurney. She heard voices.

“Single white female, Sarah Loth, twenty-six years old. Multiple contusions, broken bones, and internal bleeding.”

She was in a room, blindingly lit. She felt herself being prodded and poked, felt needles slipping into her veins, connections to monitors pasted onto her skin. Her body began convulsing, and her muscles went rigid. Pain threatened to split her apart and drive her mad. The shaking stopped and Sarah passed out and into another vision.

“Who is she, Gabriel?” Sarah demanded as she glared at her fiancé across the marble floor of their two-story beachfront mansion in Malibu. “I want a name!”

“Sarah, for the last time, I’m not sleeping around. I work long hours. You know that. What do you want from me?”

“I want the truth, Gabriel. Is it another one of your prostitutes? Is it your ex-wife? I’m sick of being neglected, and I’m sick of being lied to.”

“That’s pretty funny coming from the queen of lies and neglect. But I’ll give you the truth, Sarah. I’ve been spending as many hours at the hospital as I can, because I can’t stand the thought of coming home to you and your lazy, indolent ways. I’m sick of us.”

“How dare you call me lazy and indolent?” Sarah raged. “Who made dinner for you just last—two weeks ago?”

Gabriel laughed at her. “It was three weeks ago, and you ordered it, you didn’t make it. I’m not an idiot, Sarah. You fooled me for a while, but you don’t fool me anymore.”

The argument went downhill from there, finally ending when Sarah threw a wineglass across the room at Gabriel’s head. He ducked and it smashed into the cobblestone hearth.

“Do you want me to leave?” she asked tearfully, but the tears, of course, were as artificial as her eyelashes and fingernails.

“Yes,” Gabriel answered. “And don’t come back.”

So she left—with his precious Maserati. She had raced down their street at ninety miles an hour and had forgotten about the speed bump. When she hit it, she vaulted straight up out of her seat. She landed back hard as the tires reconnected with the pavement, and she seemed to slip through the seat and through the floorboards and into a dark vortex. When she stopped spinning she was back on the hospital gurney.

“Clear,” the doctor said. A jolt of electricity seared her body, seemed to tear it apart. She faded once again into blessed unconsciousness.

In the next instant, Sarah felt the wind in her hair as she raced the Maserati up into the hills. Taking a curve at top speed, she lost control and flipped the sports car, tumbling into the ravine below. She heard the terrifying crunch of the car slamming into the ground and her bones shattering, but she felt herself continue to fall, into another whirling vortex and onto an operating table.

“Clear,” she heard repeated once again. “She’s stable, doctor.”

“Prep for emergency surgery.”

Sarah felt a glimmer of hope. She was still alive, and they were trying to save her.

“We’ll salvage her organs and meet our quota.”

A wave of nausea passed through her when she heard those words. She wanted to get up, but she couldn’t move.

“I don’t think we should administer anesthetic, doctor,” the nurse said.

“Good point,” the doctor said. “We don’t want to pollute the organs.”

“Actually, what I meant was that she doesn’t deserve anesthetic,” the nurse replied. “I know this woman. She’s a lazy, gold digging, waste of space who started sleeping with my husband, Gabriel, two years ago.”

The doctor nodded and dismissed the anesthesiologist and anesthetist. “But we’ll need a few more orderlies to hold her down.”

Moments later, Sarah felt at least a half dozen pairs of hands pressing on her shoulders and forehead, her legs and feet. Her heart was hammering so hard she thought it might burst through her chest.

“Everybody ready?” she heard the doctor ask.

The next thing she heard was the sound of a buzzing saw.

Sarah forced her eyes open again, hoping she could beg for mercy with her eyes. The doctor had Aryan blond hair, piercing blue eyes, and a tiny scar along his left cheek.

“It looks like our little patient is awake,” the doctor said. He turned off the saw.

Sarah let out a long sigh.

The nurse picked up Sarah’s left hand and tried to twist off the diamond engagement ring Gabriel had given her. It wouldn’t come off.

“What is it, nurse?” the doctor asked.

“Poetic justice,” the nurse replied. “My ex-husband”—she turned to Sarah then and smiled—”who’s coming back to me, gave her this ring. But since their engagement is now as dead as she’s going to be, I’m taking it. It’ll finance our second honeymoon.”

“Excellent,” the doctor replied as he turned on the saw again. He straightened Sarah’s ring finger and, in one deft motion, sawed it clean off.

The pain was excruciating as the finger stump spewed out blood in pulsing spurts.

“Let’s get started, then, shall we?” the doctor said.

“What parts are we after, doctor?” the nurse asked.                      

“All of them. I’ve got a buyer waiting for her heart, lungs, kidneys, and liver. We’ll put the rest up for bids.”

The sound of the saw increased in pitch to a high whine, and then suddenly changed as the doctor sank the blade into her side. Please, no! Sarah screamed inside her head.

The awful sound ceased, and the doctor handed the saw to an assistant. Then he thrust his hand into her side and tugged at her liver. Sarah heard a squishing sound.

“Snip there, and there, nurse,” the doctor said, before pulling her liver free from its cavity.

Sarah’s body was on fire, but she was still conscious and could feel every cut, tug, slice, and snip as the doctor removed every usable organ. Please just let me die, she thought.

Finally, the doctor buried the saw blade into the center of her chest. The pain, already unimaginable, doubled, but still she remained conscious. Only when the doctor cracked her breastbone wide open did she begin to slowly fade. She could feel air entering her chest cavity as the beat of her heart began to slow. It finally stopped when the doctor removed her heart from her body.

Sarah’s head rolled to the side and came to rest against Tony Tulgrin’s shoulder as death finally took her.