Jess had a lifetime pass to ride Into the Air, a family perk but also due to her wife’s sacrifice. Few, if any, abused this privilege. Technically, she flew standby, and she had to dress as a representative of the airline. That didn’t bother her though. She liked dressing nicely and did so for work all the time. She just had to make sure she didn’t dress in jeans and a sweat shirt as they didn’t appreciate that. She also had no guarantee of first-class privileges but would be bumped up if they could accommodate her. She was lucky this time. She boarded the plane in New York, and her first-class seat was waiting for her on the trip to Antwerp, Belgium.
She leaned back in the luxurious seat and enjoyed the ride, oblivious of the fact that she probably knew the pilot and trying not to think of the things that could happen to a plane, as they had to her beloved wife. Instead, she tried to enjoy the flight: reading the magazines the airline provided, savoring the excellent meal that Into the Air was known for, and meeting her fellow passengers. She chatted easily about her career as a decorator and enjoyed herself immensely.
Jess had only a moment of fear as they landed at Antwerp Deurne airport, but she had often experienced that and knew it had nothing to do with her wife’s death or the crash. A taxi whisked her from the airport to her hotel, and she checked in, enjoying the well-appointed surroundings and the old-world charm. The décor was something she appreciated at any time, and she drank it all in as the staff showed her to her room. After taking a small nap, Jess felt rested and went out to explore the city. She found some of the jewelry stores that catered to tourists and went looking for a bargain, not only in jewelry but also in the diamonds that Antwerp was known for. She smiled as she looked at the expensive displays. Some were better quality than what she owned, and some weren’t nearly as nice as her collection. She enjoyed herself as she wandered around, getting lost half a dozen times as she explored. She finally called a taxi to take her back to her hotel, realizing too late that she was a mere block away. It was amusing, and she tipped the taxi driver for their discretion.
The next day, Jess took a taxi to the address on the paperwork and arrived at a rather imposing, old building made of large blocks of cut stone, its grey coloring mirroring the sky above. She looked at the monstrous door and saw there were no handles on it. Nor were there any attendants. She thought about it for a moment, aware that she was under surveillance by the high-tech cameras mounted above the door, but unable to figure out how to get into the building. There was a small pillar at the bottom of the three steps leading into the building. She looked at it bemusedly for a long time before she became aware there was a small, triangular hole in it. Thinking for a moment, she fished out her wife’s set of keys, which she had brought along. She realized the odd, little key that had given her the address must fit in this hole. Carefully, she inserted it. At first, it didn’t fit, and she realized she was holding it wrong. She turned the triangle upright and it slipped right in. The door began to open slowly, ponderously, and she pulled the key out to walk up the stairs and enter a rather elaborate lobby.
This was unlike any bank she had ever seen before; there was just one man behind the counter. She walked up.
“Hallo,” he said with a delighted smile, as though she were a long-lost friend.
“Hello,” she repeated back, wondering if he spoke English. Her worries were immediately cast out with his next words.
“Ah, you are American!” he sounded just as delighted as he had been at her arrival.
“Um, yeah,” she said and then held up the triangular key that opened the door. “I have this key…” she began uncertainly.
“You have never been here before?” he sounded even more delighted, if that were possible, and he smiled widely at her.
“No, I haven’t.” She wondered what this was about.
“Many inherit these keys, and sometimes, the instructions are lost,” he explained. “Let me show you,” he explained as he came out from behind the counter to show her how the key fit another door. He punched in a code on a keypad that came up and another set of doors opened, this one opening just as ponderously as the outside door. “Our depositors are looking for high-end security,” he explained. “This is one of the safest vaults in the world,” he assured her. “If you have your account number, you can use your key to withdraw your box.” He indicated another post like the one outside where her key would fit.
She now knew how it fit, so she got that one right on the first try. A panel came up for her to type on. She backed away, expecting him to type on it.
“You enter your account number,” he explained, indicating the screen. “You have as much time as you want. If you need any refreshments, please help yourself.” His hands encompassed the well-appointed room, which was set up like a library and had a bar and fridge at one end.
Not wanting to appear too naïve, but having no idea how this worked, she asked, “What if I don’t remember my account number?”
He turned from where he had been about to make an exit. “That would be very unfortunate. The passkey,” he indicated the one in the small kiosk, “is coded to the account number that was taken out when the vault was assigned.” He left her with a smile, but before he closed the doors, he guaranteed her, “Your privacy is assured.”
Jess stared blankly at the closed doors and looked around the room. This was way beyond her, way beyond anything she could fathom. What had her wife needed such a vault for? What in the world had Lena been involved in? She looked thoughtfully at the screen and wondered what Lena would have possibly used as an account number? Jess saw there was room for seven numbers. She thought she had known Lena after all their time together, but now, she worried if she had ever really known her.
Think, she ordered herself. She had known Lena. She had known her wife! She couldn’t allow the doubts that Andy planted in her psyche so long ago make her ever doubt her wife. Lena had been a simple airplane pilot, not the smuggler they had implied. They had receipts for the things she had brought back from her trips. Why would anyone think Lena was involved in anything illegal? “Think,” she said aloud, and then it hit her. They had both been big fans of eighties music and a seven-digit code just might be that song they had both loved. Carefully she typed in 8, 6, 7, 5, 3, 0, and then, very hesitantly, she typed the number 9. The tune was playing in her head, but she was starting to sweat as she entered that last digit. Now, what? She looked around, waiting for something, but nothing happened. She looked down at the pad again, exasperated, and noticed it was waiting for her. Then she saw the word “enter.” With sweat breaking out again, she pressed the enter key, not knowing what would happen. She was surprised when it flashed the word ‘correct’ on the screen and closed the pad to her. The window in front of her lowered, and a conveyor belt became visible to her. A gigantic arm moved around in a large arc and plucked what looked like a tote from a shelf. She watched as something out of the future, some type of robotic arm seemed to place the tote on the conveyor belt, and it rolled out in front of her. She looked around the room, wondering what she should do with it.
Noticing the fasteners on the tote, she flipped them one at a time until she was able to lift off the lid. She carefully placed it beside the tote while she looked inside. There was a pile of papers, which she reached for and began to look through. One of them was for a house in a town called Kanne Riemst. Why would Lena have needed a house in Belgium, Jess wondered? Putting that aside, she looked through the paperwork and found a statement for a bank account located at this very address. She pulled out the paperwork of the wife benefit insurance policy to see where the monies had been paid, and the accounts matched! Her eyebrow raised at the balance in the account. What was this? Why had Lena needed this bank account in Belgium?
She couldn’t read all the papers as some were in Dutch and some contained the German translation. That did her no good. She had only taken French in school, back in the day, and she hadn’t been a very good student.
Thinking the paperwork in this high security vault wasn’t needed, given the expense of renting one, she was about to replace the lid when she realized the tote wasn’t empty. Because it was all black inside the tote, she hadn’t realized there were black velvet bags lining the bottom. She had thought the material was part of the tote. She lifted out the first one, then another and another and another and still, there was one more remaining. Frowning, Jess carefully opened what looked like a jeweler’s bag. Shocked, she saw the sparkle of what was contained in the bag. Very gently, she poured the contents into her hand…the diamonds cascading like thick water.
Jess’ heart was beating like a drum. This was proof that her wife must have been a smuggler. This must be how Lena afforded the down payment on their house and land, land, that while overgrown and abandoned, had been valuable and expensive because it was on the ocean. That meant Lena must have been doing this for a very long time.
Jess looked in the other bags, finding similar caches of diamonds. One bag held what looked like garnets but might be rubies? Jess did not know, but she wondered how in the world her wife had acquired these valuable items. She closed the bags and returned them to the tote, wondering what she was going to do with her discovery? She could go to the authorities, who would demand that she turn them over, but how would that look? She might be implicated. Her reputation and her wife’s legacy would be destroyed. And what about Tabitha?
Jess sat down to try and think clearly, absentmindedly looking at the paperwork as she thought. Trying to think rationally, she realized, even without knowing the actual value of the stones, that the monies represented in the bags were staggering. It was scaring her beyond measure to think of what she had in her possession.
She had been prepared to come to the bank, ask about her wife’s account, and take possession of it. She had even brought a copy of Lena’s certified death certificate, her will, and their marriage certificate along, planning to give them to the bank to prove who she was. She hadn’t expected…this. What the hell was she going to do with it all? If she just showed up with all this money, the IRS would become suspicious, and with the governments suspicions about Lena being a smuggler, they would confiscate everything. The FBI would have no problem arresting her and asking questions later. Wouldn’t Interpol and the NTSB be interested as well? Conspiracy theories would abound. Their lives would be ruined…forever.
A tragic explosion results in the death of over 200 airplane passengers. Was the explosion caused by pilot error, or was it a conspiracy?
Pilot Cathalene (Lena) Penn, accused by the airline of being a smuggler, died in the tragedy, and her wife, Jessica is desperate to clear Lena’s good name. When Jessica travels to Belgium, her wife’s home away from home, she discovers diamonds, a second family, and a mystery…
Sometimes, choosing between what is safe and what is right isn’t easy, and running away is always an option…Flight!
About Author K’Anne Meinel
K’Anne Meinel is a prolific best-selling fiction writer with more than one hundred published works including shorts, novellas, and novels. She is an American author born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and raised outside of Oconomowoc. Upon early graduation from high school, she went to a private college in Milwaukee and then moved to California for seventeen years before returning to the state. Many of her stories are noted for being realistic, with wonderfully detailed backgrounds and compelling story-lines. Called the Danielle Steel of her time, K’Anne continues to write interesting stories in a variety of genres in both the lesbian and mainstream fiction categories. Her website is @ www.kannemeinel.com. K’Anne is also the publisher and owner of Shadoe Publishing, LLC @ www.shadoepublishing.com and in December 2017 she started the Lesfic Bard Awards @ www.lesficbardawards.com. In December 2018 she launched the Gay Scribe Awards @ www.gayscribeawards.com in hopes of duplicating the first year’s success of the Lesfic Bard Awards and to showcase more LGBT literature.