Mitchell was asleep almost immediately upon departure. Sarah, who sat next to him, thought about how much this fact annoyed her. She looked at him with distaste, trying to ignore the even breathing that seemed to become louder which each inhale. It was mind boggling to her that anyone breathe so loudly that he drowned out the noise of the plane. In an attempt to keep her cool, she pulled out her laptop and decided to distract herself with work. She stared at the smiling little Mac icon for a minute before it dawned on her that she was wasting her time. As soon as the desktop opened, she clicked on games and went to work on solitaire.
Gavin sat just behind them, luxuriating in the comforts of first class. Never in his life had he been treated this well. He stretched out for probably the third time, prompting an odd look from his neighbor. Gavin favored him with a smirk, and snuggled more into the seat. After a few minutes, curiosity caused him to peek around the seat in front to see what Sarah was doing. Over the past few weeks they'd become pretty friendly – common enemy and all that. He caught her looking angrily at Mitchell again.
“Hey,” he whispered, and Sarah huffed at the sound of his voice. Gavin grinned, “Here now, you’ve been drinking from the “I hate Mitch” cup for a while; don’t you think its time to lighten up a bit? After all, you’re getting a lovely trip to the Isles because of him, surely that must be a bonus.”
“Nothing is a bonus when it involves Mitch,” she replied through clenched teeth.
“Yeah, I realize that. Believe me, three weeks of working for Dracula here and you begin to question whether he ever had a mother. But still. I’m not obsessing about him and the awful things he’s done or is going to do to me. In fact, I plan to enjoy my time abroad, even if it is England,” he said the country’s name as if describing a rather filthy piece of mold, “and I am especially enjoying the fact that, right now, I have a steward at my beck and call.”
To emphasize this, Gavin raised his hand and snapped his finger at the young man standing near the back of the cabin. The steward was there in seconds, just in time for Gavin wave him off.
“Just proving a point, my friend,” he said, and turned to smile at Sarah. Still looking at the steward, Sarah couldn’t help but see the slight rolling of the man’s eyes, causing her own lips to quirk a little in response.
“There, you see? You just have to see the good things,” Gavin smiled a little broader.
“I am capable of having a good time, Mr. Quinn,” Sarah said abruptly, smile gone. “And I am not obsessed about Mitchell. You just don’t know what this little…about my past with him.”
“Oh, you mean the fact that, last time you worked together, he convinced a partner that you were slacking at your job, and that your work was infantile, even though you were his senior at that time? And then he turned around and convinced you to do some of his work for him, pretending that he was behind in his own work, just so that he could finish his work on the project before everyone else? Yeah, I heard about that."
Sarah turned in her seat with a surprised expression, but Gavin merely nodded.
"I also heard that he made himself indispensable to the partner by deliberately hiding certain information from the partner, and acting as if he learned about it only at the last minute, just in time for client meetings, saving the proverbial day? Course, the last is only a rumor. Me, I believe it to be gospel.”
Sarah opened her mouth as if to speak, blinking a little at Gavin. “How did you…so fast?”
“Oh,” he replied, his small smile dancing over his lips, “Permanent Staff don’t keep secrets, and they are more than willing to spread nasty rumors about our boy here, believe you me. As soon as I met you, I heard five different variations of the story of what he did to you before I made it to lunch that day. I sniffed out what seemed to be the most plausible.”
“So then you know how contemptible he is.”
“Sure, but how much harm has he really done you, huh? You’re still on the partnership track, within the usual time expected. And you never worked with him again, so you never had to deal with his bullshit again. Speaking of which, why are you working with him now?”
Sarah grimaced, “I was guilted into it. And as to the idea that he didn’t hurt me….well, if your rumor mill is so good, then you must already know…”
“That you were also dating him at the time, yeah, I know.”
“Fabulous.” This was said with a hand to the bridge of the nose, followed by a small sigh.
“Yes, well,” Gavin leaned in with a conspiratorial manner, “I’ll tell you a secret.” He looked around him as if afraid someone might overhear, then said in a low whisper, “Men are pigs. And don’t tell anyone I told you.”
Sarah couldn’t resist a small smile at that one, “Maybe. But, you see, at the time I thought it was me.”
“What?” Gavin seemed genuinely surprised.
Sarah sighed, and shifted so she could seem him better. Mitchell groaned a little where he sat and turned to face the window. Sarah looked at him with narrowed eyes for a second, then remembered his ability to sleep through bombs exploding. His first apartment was on the first floor right near a subway stop. It used to shake and rattle like a Californian Victorian on a fault line, but he slept through it without a worry. She’d often wondered how he could sleep at night in any case, being who he was. It was something else she hated about him. She looked back at Gavin.
“Still asleep?” he asked. Sarah nodded. He smiled again, “So, go on,” he encouraged.
Sarah thought for a moment before answering. Seeing no harm in talking to him, she organized her thoughts and explained. “Well, for most of my life, I thought I was, well, I was always the one in control. I used to dump guys who got to close because I was afraid of being tied to anyone, and, I think…I gave up a lot of great possibilities because of it. I tried to overcome this, but every time I let a guy get close, telling myself I shouldn’t be afraid of him, I ended up hurting them even more when I left. And I always left.” She paused, and leaned back more in her seat.
“Mitchell came into my life at a time when I had analyzed my life to the point where I couldn’t stand being alone anymore, and told myself that I was going throw myself into the next relationship with everything that I was. I thought that, if I were to be up front to him about who I was and what I wanted, that it could lay the foundation for something real. I explained that I wanted independence and space, and Mitchell, well, he was willing to give that to me…for a while. But he seemed to get itchy, wanting to get closer, so I figured, what the hell, if he wanted me to be there, I’d be there.” Sarah paused, and her eyes seemed to lose their focus a little as she relived the past. Gavin sat, transfixed, waiting for her to get on with it. Sarah sighed, and looked down at the cabin floor.
“At that point,” she continued, “I’d only known him about six months, maybe a year after he joined the firm, and we were working together on this project…everything seemed perfect. It was the first time that I thought I had succeeded in overcoming my past.” Sarah smiled, “I was falling in love for the first time, and I liked it. Then I started to hear rumors about him from the other associates, and I heard the rumor about what he’d said to the partner about me. When the partner told me that he no longer needed me on the case, I reacted by storming into Mitch’s office, demanding the truth, and getting a look of pure astonishment in return. My god, he could charm a Yankees fan into believing the Mets deserve to win the World Series. He told me...” She realized that she had gotten louder, and after looking back again at Mitchell, she started again more quietly. “He told me I was being ridiculous, and that my accusations were hurtful, and that, if I didn’t trust him then perhaps we didn’t belong together. In fact, he suggested that, maybe, I had jumped to these conclusions because, really, I was looking for an excuse to break up with him. And…I believed him. I left his office believing that I had once again ruined my life, that I could never love anyone, and that, basically I was a big loser. After I found that some of those rumors were substantiated, then I felt a little better. But…not totally. Part of me still thinks….It's just…oh, I don’t know.” She finished by putting her head in her hands.
Gavin watched her for a minute, then reached over to touch her. He stopped before he did, however, and brought his hand back. “I’d like to take this moment,” he said after a few minutes had passed, “to reiterate my first point. You know, the whole pig phenomena.” Sarah sniggered a little through her fingers, unable to resist. Gavin continued, “But I’d like to qualify it a little. Mitchell, he’s not a pig. He’s the filth that they lie in.”
Sarah looked up at Gavin and smiled. “Thanks. I guess I’m glad you’re along on this trip after all.”
Gavin feigned astonishment, “What? You mean you haven’t been secretly in love with me from the moment we met? Man, I just have to brush up on my skills; I’m clearly losing my conning abilities.”
Sarah giggled, and looked back over at Mitchell. The man looked like he was in pain, a large crease furrowing his brow. Sarah’s smile became mean, and she raised an eyebrow. “Well,” she said to her sleeping partner, “at least your dreams are not under your control, Mitch. Perhaps you’ll get some of what you deserve.” She glanced once more at Gavin, then went back to playing solitaire.
Gavin leaned back and spent the rest of the trip thinking. He’d heard Sarah’s last remark to Mitchell, and he wondered if there was any reason why he should try to smooth things out between them.
Then he wondered why he was wondering that at all.
Then he thought about how nice Sarah’s eyes were. She was only, what, seven, eight years his senior? He could handle that. Maybe this trip meant more than just a fun trip abroad, he reasoned, his eyebrows lifting on his forehead, maybe he could get lucky as well. Oink, oink.
They landed in Stanstead airport in a drizzling rain. Sarah elbowed Mitchell awake, and he reacted with a loud snort. They disembarked without a word, just a nod to the stewards, and Gavin stealing a couple of packs of peanuts from the food area. Mitchell stretched, yawned and smiled, ready to tackle customs with a smile. Sarah glared at him through blood shot eyes, and decided to keep a step behind him. As they approached the gate entrance, several stewards stood there asking everyone to please follow them to a waiting area.
Puzzled, the passengers of the flight filed into a glass enclosed room, and were asked to sit. For about ten minutes, no one moved, although a few asked questions of the attendants hanging out by the door. Eventually, however, the constant murmuring of the crowd rose to an annoyed mumble, and finally to a level of noise similar to a crowded bar on a Saturday night. Mitchell and Gavin sat over at one side, while Sarah paced in front of them. Jet lag and general annoyance were keeping her in motion, and she punctuated her movements with a few less than ladylike slurs about the airline. Mitchell just sat quietly, following her with his eyes, looking totally calm and content. Sarah was about to slap him when the room suddenly quieted.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I am Michael Stubbs, the Captain of your flight,” said a rather tall man with graying temples, standing near the door. “I am sorry for the inconvenience, but I’m afraid you may have to be here for a few more minutes while police finish their search of the plane.”
At the word “police,” people began to speak out in confusion, and questions gushed over him like a flood. Motioning everyone to be quiet, the captain continued.
“We didn’t want to alarm anyone during the flight but, in what I am sure was a very cruel hoax, someone used lipstick in a first class bathroom to write that there was a bomb on board the plane.”
Cries of “oh my God,” and other small screams echoed from the passengers, and a slew of people moved to the window to look out at the planes lined up against the gates.
“The plane has been moved to an outside hanger, and the police are checking everything now to make sure that there was indeed no bomb. However, if anyone has any information, particularly any of our first class passengers who might have seen anything out of the ordinary, or anyone who may not have belonged in the area, I have with me Constable Masters who will take your statements.”
The captain’s speech droned on, but began to get lost in the noise of the crowd. Sarah heard a child near her say “Cool, wait ‘til I tell Tim. He’s gonna freak.” She closed her eyes and shook her head a little in dismay.
Mitchell clicked his tongue, the turned to look disapprovingly at Gavin. After a minute Gavin looked up and stared back in return.
“What?” the boy said finally. “What, why are you looking at me?”
In response Mitchell merely raised his eyebrows, acting as if he knew something and maybe he should go speak with the constable. Gavin’s mouth opened, ready to protest his innocence, but, just as quickly, he changed his mind. He laughed in disbelief, and, leaning back, crossed his arms across his chest. Mitchell looked at him a little longer, then stood up and walked away.
Gavin looked up at Sarah, who favored him with a strange smile.
“He doesn’t think….” Gavin said, stopping and narrowing his eyes. “I mean, where would I get lipstick?”
“Mitchell is just being Mitchell, Gavin. Trust me, its not worth getting excited about,” Sarah replied, sighing and sitting down in the seat Mitchell had vacated.
“Why would he think I did it?” Gavin muttered. “I mean, it can't be because...because I'm Irish, right? Because, well, that would be stupid....” He looked over at Mitchell, who returned the look with a finger pressed to his lips in contemplation. A dark expression colored the secretary's features. “Well, nice to know that he’s not one to jump to conclusions,” he spat. He was speaking to Sarah, but his words were directed at Mitchell, who was easily in range to hear the conversation. The lawyer kept his back to Gavin as he listened.
“Maybe it’d been an easier conclusion to jump to if I were Arab? Libyan maybe? Well, he must be right, after all, you don’t know me at all, do you? I’ve only been his fuckin' slave for a month and a half now. Jesus. What an ass.” Gavin crossed his arms and turned away.
Sarah opted to remain quiet, and Mitchell never once looked back at his secretary. He kept his eyes fixed on the captain, who was speaking now with some of the passengers. He looked as if her were making the rounds. Gavin didn’t speak again, and soon began to wonder if Mitchell had heard him at all.
A small part of him also began to wonder if he had just lost his ticket back to the States.
Forty five minutes later, they were all told they could leave. Gavin skipped through the EC line at immigration, telling them he would collect the bags for them. That left Sarah and Mitchell in the short line for the first class passengers. It was fast, but not so fast that Sarah didn’t have time to talk to Mitchell.
“What was that all about back there?” she asked him, watching as he sorted through his papers. He didn’t look at her when he answered.
“All of what?”
“Oh come on. I’m talking about the look you gave Gavin. You can’t tell me you seriously thought it might be him who played that sick joke.”
“Why not? Seems like the sort of thing kids his age would find funny. He’s lucky I didn’t turn him in.”
“Kids his age? Gavin's not a kid, Mitch. He's 24."
"He acts like a kid. Besides, look at his background."
"His what? Jesus, Mitch," she put a hand to her head, "I'm going to pretend you didn't say that."
Mitchell tucked the papers in his hand into a neat pile, and looked towards the front of the line. A look of complete calm held his features. Grimacing, Sarah gripped the papers in her hand, crushing them against her passport.
They inched forward.
“What are you going to do about him?” She asked, finally. "I assume you overheard what he called you..."
Mitchell gave her a sidelong glance before answering, “Well, after what he said, I thought about firing him…”
“Oh no, please Mitch…” Sarah said, interrupting. Mitchell held up his free hand, calming her.
“…then I thought better of it. I’m willing to overlook his speech, so long as you promise to have dinner with me when we get home.”
Sarah stood amazed. “You’re kidding,” she answered finally. Mitchell favored her with a big smile. She was about to say something else when they made it to the front of the line. They handed over their papers in silence, the customs official glancing at their pictures and verifying their passage on the computer. After a couple of seconds, she looked up and regarded Sarah and Mitchell with a tried eye.
“Are you here for business or pleasure?” she asked.
Mitchell answered before Sarah. “Both,” he said.
Sarah stood defeated.
They were met outside the gate by several men in black ties and sunglasses. Sarah couldn’t help but wonder if the President was around somewhere. One man stood out, however, in a light gray suit and blue tie. He was taller than most, and his face, devoid of sunglasses, could quite accurately be described as chiseled. He smiled, which actually looked as if it might have caused some effort, and approached them with an outstretched hand.
“Mr. Galileo Mitchell and Ms. Sarah Black,” he said formally, an American twang overcoming a slight British accent, “it is nice to see you again sir, and to finally meet you ma’am. I am Arnold Jack.”
Sarah took his hand congenially, while Mitchell returned the greeting. Turning, he flicked a beckoning finger at Gavin, who was following them with all the bags in a cart.
“That young man,” Mitchell spoke loudly enough for Gavin to hear, “is my current secretary Gavin Quinn. He made need some help with the bags.”
Even though Sarah had promised him that Mitchell had not been aware of his remarks, the secretary was still a little nervous. The term “current” had not been lost on him. While he had been waiting for the bags, and for his boss and Sarah to clear customs, he had time to reflect on his outburst. Anger was replaced by worry. The job was truly well paying, and, for all Mitchell was a pain, it was never boring. He didn’t want to lose it, especially with the status of his green card hanging over his head. He had to stay in the States -- it meant everything to him to live there. So, he’d done his best to get all the bags and have them ready when the others arrived, meticulously balancing them on only one cart so that he could show his willingness to take care of them by himself. Mitchell didn’t even look at him when he passed by, but Sarah stopped and told him quietly not to worry. Her smile was like a ray of sunshine, and he prayed that she was right.
He puffed along after them, pushing the cart. A man in black came to walk beside him. “Mr. Quinn?” he asked, to which Gavin nodded. “I can take that from you.” Gavin hesitated, then released the handles, moving forward to walk by Sarah. She elbowed him. Mitchell looked back from where he had been chatting with the Mr. Jack, and took them both in with a nod. His face looked the same as it had for the past three weeks whenever he looked at Gavin, and the boy relaxed.
Outside, two black Mercedes waited. Mitchell walked to the first, and for the first time his face betrayed a crease of annoyance when he saw Sarah getting in to the second car with Gavin. Stifling any emotion, he resolved to forget about it and use the ride to get as much information out of Mr. Jack as possible.
After settling in, he turned to the man and asked him how long it was between here and the London office.
“Oh,” the man responded, “I’m afraid there has been a change in plans. Lady Jowett has decided to meet you at the real nerve center of the business, at her manor house in County Durham. The trip should only take a few more hours from here. Had we known where you were flying into in advance, we would have suggested Manchester.”
“Ah,” Mitchell replied, and mentally washed his mind of all annoyance at the wasted time. “So tell me," he began, looking casually across at Mr. Jack.
Soon they were well on their way north.