Chapter 13

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There was a time when Art enjoyed flying, long ago when he didn't have to remove his shoes to go through security, when his travel agent issued real paper tickets and boarding passes instead of him having to remember confirmation codes, and when ticket agents smiled instead of scowled. Nowadays, he regarded air travel as a damned nuisance.

After clearing security, Art sat and slipped into his shoes. "Hells bells," he grumbled while double-checking he had replaced his photo ID into his wallet.

Natalya stood nearby wearing an amused expression, carry-on bag slung across her shoulder. "I told you not to try sneaking your water bottle past the screener."

He stood and picked up his bag, started walking toward their departure gate. "Security won't let me bring a half-liter bottle of water through, but the terminal stores are more than happy to sell me the exact same bottle on this side for exorbitant prices. It's highway robbery, a damned conspiracy."

Keeping up with his long strides, Natalya said, "Anyone overhearing you will think you're a crotchety old geezer."

"Humph."

She tugged at his shirt sleeve. "Hey, over there is a Starbucks. Let's get coffee before we board."

Art didn't want coffee. It irritated his bladder and would make him want to pee every half-hour during the flight. He was too embarrassed to tell her though. She already thought of him as a walking cliché of an old man. Then again, why should he be embarrassed? Why should he care what she thought of him?

He decided to be agreeable and have a coffee with her. Art ordered a small which according to Starbucks was a tall—he still didn't understand that logic—and allowed Natalya to pay the barista since she offered. That was another thing. When did they start calling servers, baristas? Why did people have to complicate things? He planned to sip a few ounces and dump the rest in the men's room sink before boarding.

They didn't speak much while waiting at the gate. Art purchased a spy novel at the terminal bookstore to pass the time. Natalya bought a few magazines. Both of them watched people walking by.

When they were called to board, Art helped Natalya stow her bag in the overhead compartment. Since he was the one who purchased the tickets, he had selected the seats for each leg of the trip. Thinking ahead about his frequent bathroom visits, he always seated her at the window and him on the aisle for easier access.

As usual, they were crammed into the cabin like canned sardines. They buckled up. Sitting this close to Natalya, Art noticed how nice she smelled and wondered what shampoo she used. Their shoulders touched, sending a pleasurable zing of warmth through him. He swallowed and decided to concentrate on his spy novel.

After reaching cruising altitude, Art's eyes grew heavy, because the damn printing in his paperback was so small. He decided to nap. Unlike a lot of people, Art had no trouble sleeping on planes. In fact, as he got older, Art could sleep just about anywhere and at any time at the drop of a hat. He stowed the novel in the seat pocket, folded his arms across his chest, and closed his eyes.

Natalya chose that moment to stir in her seat. Art opened his eyes and found her looking at him.

"Did you finish reading all your magazines?" he asked.

She nodded and started sucking on her lower lip like a little girl. Art found it endearing.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"Nothing. I'm just wondering what we'll find in North Dakota. If it'll bring us any closer to finding out about Vince."

"Anything is possible," Art said, "but if this Chester Amundsen character made us take this trip for nothing, I'm going to bust his nose. He better have something substantial to show us."

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