Dragon Soul

By: Katie MacAlister


“I’m sorry for waking you. Would this happen to be your vibrating butterfly?”

The man I was crouched next to squinted at me even though the lighting on the plane had been turned down so as to be conducive to sleep. His face scrunched up even more when I gingerly held up a bright pink object wrapped in a crinkly plastic package, and his voice, when he spoke, was thick with sleep. “What? Who are you?”

“I’m so sorry I woke you,” I apologized again, shifting a little when my calf muscle began to complain about the fact that I had spent the last twenty minutes squatting my way up the first-class aisle on the flight from Los Angeles to Munich. “My friend—really, she’s more my charge than my friend—appears to have mysteriously acquired this object from someone on this side of the plane, and I wondered if it was you.”

His eyes focused on the sex toy. “The hell? Do you think I’d use something like that? I’m a man!”

“Oh! That’s mine, George,” his seatmate said with a little giggle. She flashed him an embarrassed little smile, and said in a rush, “I thought we could try it out once we got to the hotel. Second honeymoon and all.”

I assumed the last part was aimed at me, and I duly dropped the toy into her outstretched hand with a murmured apology and plastic rustle that seemed overly loud in the hushed cabin.

“Although I don’t know how it fell out of my luggage…” She glanced upward at the overhead bin as if expecting to see her belongings hanging out of the opened door.

I gave her a wan smile and stood, gratefully stretching my cramped muscles. “My client must have mistaken your bag for hers. Sorry to disturb you both.”

The husband grumbled in a low tone to his wife, but I didn’t wait around to hear how she was going to explain her plans for their stay in Germany—I had an elderly lady to watch, and as the last few hours of the flight had shown, I had to watch her like a hawk.

I hurried to the galley area between the first-class section and coach, and slipped in with a couple of flight attendants busy with beverages for the few folks who were still awake. Next to them, seated on a small pull-down emergency seat, sat a tiny old woman, her hair a mass of white curls and her brown face bearing a myriad of wrinkles and crisscrossed lines. She bore an air of fragility and profound age that made one think she was crumpling in on herself, but I hadn’t been with her for half an hour before I realized just how false that impression was. “Here I am, back again. Have you enjoyed your visit with the flight attendants?”

The old lady, clutching a can of Coke and gleefully stuffing crackers into her mouth, shot me a look out of eyes the color of sun-bleached jeans. “I told them you took away my pretty pink shiny, but that I forgave you because you’re taking me to my beau.”

I smiled the smile of a martyr—even if my martyrdom was short-lived, I already felt very much at home with it—and said gently, “That sexual device was not yours, even if it was a nice shade of pink. I’m glad you’ve forgiven me for giving it back to its rightful owner, although I didn’t know you were meeting a gentleman friend in Cairo. Your grandson… er… drat, I’ve forgotten his name. All he said was that you were going on a cruise.”

“I have been kept from him for a very long time,” she said, confusingly scattering pronouns along with a few cracker crumbs. “But you will take me to him. And you will find me more shinies.”

I spread my smile to the nearest attendant, who earlier had taken pity on me and offered to babysit while I returned the pilfered object. It was the second item I’d had to return since I picked up my charge at an L.A. hotel—the first had been a watch that I had seen Mrs. P pluck from some unwary traveler’s bag. “Thanks so much for your help.”

“Oh, it was no problem, Sophea,” Adrienne the flight attendant said in a chirpy voice that perfectly suited her manner. “We enjoyed having Mrs. Papadom… Mrs. Papadonal…”

“Mrs. Papadopolous,” I offered. “She likes to be called Mrs. P, though.”

“Yes! Such a difficult name.” A look of horror flashed over her face when she realized what she’d said, and she hastily added, “But an interesting one! Very interesting. I like names like that.”