Authors: Joshua Corin
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
An Alibi Ebook Original
Copyright Â© 2016 by Joshua Corin
by Joshua Corin copyright Â© 2016 by Joshua Corin
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Alibi, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
is a registered trademark and the
colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.
This book contains an excerpt from the forthcoming book
by Joshua Corin. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition.
Cover design: Tatiana Sayig
Cover images: Shutterstock
“There is weather in Paris.”
Scott blinked at the cow-headed gate agent. “I'm sorry?”
“There is weather,” the man insisted, “in Paris.”
“Yeah, I'm not sure what that means, but this is my pointâ¦” Scott knew there were people in line behind him, people just as frustrated as he was, and he would let them have their turn with this moronâof course he wouldâbut not until his perfectly legitimate questions had been answered in a satisfactory manner. “My point is that my wifeâ¦it's still kind of strange saying thatâ¦you see, we just got married nineteen hours agoâ¦anyway, me and my wife checked the weather in Paris before we left for the airportâ¦we checked the weather for the whole week, and it's supposed to be gorgeous, so if it's a problem with the planeâ¦you know, a mechanical problem or whateverâ¦then say it's a mechanical problem, but the flight has been delayed now for almost two hours and it's already seven sixteen
and we have this itineraryâ¦Crystal is all about itinerariesâ¦and we're paying a lot of money for our hotel because we've got a view of the Eiffel Tower from our room and they have this cancellation fee and so I guess what I really want to know is what contingency plan you have in place so that youâ¦so that the airlineâ¦can do its job.”
The cow-headed gate agent considered Scott's words, chewed them over cud-like in his mind. Then he replied in a deep, flat-toned moo, “As soon as we receive word of a change, we will let you know.”
Now, Scott McCormick was not a violent man. He had never been in a fight in his life. He had always been the tallest kid in class by at least six inches and had therefore been the object of much ridicule, scorn, and spitballs for many years, but he had always taken abuse with a respectable nonchalance. Even when he had surpassed six feet tall and could have palmed their faces like a basketball, he had maintained this even temper, and anyway, by middle school, he was already ankle-deep in a steady stream of girlfriends and the bullying had ceased altogether.
And so he had never been in a fight, and certainly had never felt inclined to start one, and yet, as this jug-eared, snout-nosed gate agent, this middle-aged man, persevered in his efforts to completely not give a shit about ruining a honeymoon, Scott could feel his own long fingers flex and curl, with his thumbs instinctively sealing his fists into hard, pink blocks.
“Next,” said the gate agent, and Scott brought up his fistâ¦
â¦only to feel a pair of soft, warm hands encircle it, calm it, gentle it down to his waist. Crystal stood as tall as his elbow, but her touch, oh her touch, was mighty. Without further word, she guided him back to the waiting area. They sat down beside their carry-ons.
“Take a breath,” she whispered.
He took a breath. He let it go. He thought about his uncle's cornfield. Trite but helpful. Plus, her soft, warm hand remained wrapped around his fingers, no longer rigid curlicues but now a smooth plane, like hers.
He leaned over and rested his head on hers. Her purple-pink scalp rubbed against his cheek. How he loved the feel of her butter-smooth hair along his skin. He took a breath. He let it go. He thought about her bangs, tipped purple, framing her face, red-brown eyes, red-brown freckles, red-brown lips. He thought about her lips and her lips met his lips and for a moment, he forgot all about apathetic gate agents and flummoxed itineraries. Such was the magic of Crystal Kinkleâno, Crystal McCormick.
“What are we going to do?” he asked her.
“It's out of our control,” she answered. “Paris will still be there tomorrow.”
“If it exists.”
This was their private joke, stemming from the fact that Crystal had triedâand failedâto visit Paris twice before. The first time had been with her high school. Thanks to a sudden bout of mono, she was the only student in French III who had not enjoyed a week abroad in the City of Light. The second time had actually been with Scottâor was supposed to have been with Scott. Through his job at the bank, he had won a weekend getaway to Paris and had surprised her with the news a month before their one-year dating anniversary. Although he himself could not have cared less about Paris, he knew how much it meant to her. He had told her over dinner at the only French restaurant in their speck of a town and she had become so excited by the news that she had popped from her chair, jumped up and down, screamed, and then wept on and off for a good three hours.
The next day, the travel agency that had sponsored the trip declared bankruptcy.
And so, their private joke, that Paris didn't really exist and all photographs and anecdotes related to it were an elaborate fiction. A private joke was like a precious and loyal pet, and Scott had felt a tinge of regret at bidding this particular bit adieu. This, of course, was before their flight from Lincoln, Nebraska, had landed at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, whereupon their layover became a Kafka nightmare.
In the end, the airline's solution for its stranded passengers had been abeyance. They were all given vouchers for an overnight stay at a local hotel and were assuredârepeatedlyâthat a special flight to Paris would be waiting for them at 9
Two employees of the airline, recognizable in those bland blue blazers, directed the passengers with ruthless efficiency toward the four shuttle buses.
Once on the bus, Crystal phoned their folks, first Scott's parents and then her own, while Scott tried to distract himself with an e-book he had downloaded to his phone. It was a biography of Napoleon. Something to get him in the mood for Paris.
If Paris even existed.
Once she had finished reassuring their families that they were in fact still continuing on with their honeymoon, Crystal slid a breath mint under her tongue and emitted a brief teapot-whistle of stress. Scott slid an arm around her shoulders and hugged her close. They kissed. Accidentally, the breath mint traveled mouths. They kissed again. The breath mint returned to its original owner.
“How's Napoleon?” she asked him.
Scott slid his phone into his pocket. “Napoleon has a low battery.”
He tightened his grip on her shoulders.
“There's weather in Paris,” she said.
“Who would've thought?”
“It's our fault. We should have picked a place without weather. Like the moon. We should have gone to the moon.”
“Yes.” She rested her head against him. “Next time.”
The Peachtree Marriott, which their shuttle bus parked in front ofâthe other three shuttle buses having driven to parts unknownâwas surprisingly classy. Cavernous lobby. Wood paneling. The hotel employees were all smiling, and all wore a small white rose on their left lapel. The rest of their uniform was crimson wool. A Ray Charles look-alike was playing light jazz on a black piano. Several guests sat nearby on pillowy divans.
The thirty-some passengers formed a line. It was an old habit by now. Scott and Crystal found themselves in the middle of the line. Every few minutes they inched forward. They were too tired and too hungry to chat. But the man at the piano was very, very good, and the music soothed their tired, hungry silence.
Finally, they reached the clerk at the desk. Her white rose glistened with dew. Scott handed the woman their IDs. How many times today had Scott handed over their IDs? There was the ticket counter in Lincoln, the first time they approached the gate agent in Atlanta, the bar in Atlanta while they waited out their delay, the second time they approached the gate agent in Atlantaâ¦
And as always, there was the once-over, as the person compared the faces in their photographs with the faces on their heads. What did they see? Probably a basketball player and a punk rock grrl. Scott and Crystal fit the profile, even if, in actuality, the carrot-topped string bean had truly clumsy hand-eye coordination and even if, in actuality, the rainbow-coiffed cupcake at his side preferred the sultry sounds of Nina Simone to the loud growls of Kathleen Hanna.
At least this clerk was smiling. That was a pleasant change of pace. She handed them their room key card and pointed them in the direction of the elevators and advised them to have a blessed day.
The elevator was to the right, and so to the right they strolled, and maybe with a little more pep now that, for another pleasant change of pace, they were going to actually reach their destination. And they would have reached the elevator in good time too had a tall man in a black hat not stepped in their path.
“You're newlyweds,” he said, pointing, “aren't you?”
The black hat shadowed his face, but his teeth were wide and white. This was a hotel filled with grins. The man wore a long silver-gray suit that shimmered like the coat of a warhorse. He wasn't one of the passengers. He must have been among the guests sitting near the piano.
“Want to know how I can tell?” His breath smelled like mosquito repellent. “It's two things, really. First, it's the rings. I love your rings. And rings means married. Ring-a-ding-ding. Secondâand this is the real giveawayâyou're holding hands! Married
holding hands? Newlyweds! Am I right? You don't need to tell me. I know I am. But you're thinkingâwho is this douchebag and why is he rudely interrupting our honeymoon bliss?”
Which was in fact exactly what Scott was thinking.
The man flashed them his key card, and then waved it in front of their noses as if it were made of gold.
“I have the best room in this hotel and I didn't pay for it. My company paid for it. It's not even a room. It's a
. Top floor. Got to be two thousand square feet from wall to wall. Marble floors. Marble shower. Jacuzzi. A full kitchenânot that I've cooked a meal in my life. And now you're thinkingâwhy is this douchebag telling us all this?”
Which was again exactly what Scott was thinking.
Crystal squeezed his hand. This man was making her uneasy.
This man was making the both of them uneasy.
“Lookâ” said Scott.
Suddenly, the man reached for Scott's free hand and slapped the key card against his palm.
“It's yours,” he said. His voice had lowered to a confidential whisper. “I don't need it. I'm here alone. What am I going to do with a two-thousand-square-foot suite? No. It's yours. If you want it.”
Crystal squeezed Scott's hand three times. He squeezed her hand three times back.
It was all they could do to keep from exploding.
Managing some semblance of chill, Crystal then asked, “What's the catch?”
“No catch. I mean, we'll have to trade key cards. I still need a place to crash. What kind of bed did you get, a queen or a king?”
Crystal looked to Scott. Scott frowned. He honestly couldn't remember.
“No matter,” the man said. “A bed is a bed. And it won't take me more than a minute to pack. So what do you say?”
“Yes?” Scott replied.
“Yes,” Crystal replied.
“Yes!” the man added. “Now let's get this party moving.”
And so the three of them took the elevator up, way up, to the twenty-seventh floor of the Peachtree Marriott. The carpets here were crimson, although a slightly darker shade than the uniforms. The door to the suite, Room 2702, was rose white, but it did sport a crimson trim.
“Congratulations, by the way,” the man said, and he unlocked the door to the room and led them inside.