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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."

"It's not my name," Mrs. P said, letting me assist her to her feet. "It  never was my name. He gave me the name. He thought it was amusing."

"I'm sure Mr. Papadopolous had an excellent sense of humor," I said  soothingly, giving Adrienne a little knowing look. She'd been on my side  ever since I explained how Mrs. P had used my visit to the toilet to  blithely rifle through the bags of fellow sleeping passengers. I herded  my charge toward the last row of seats, saying softly, "Now, would you  like to watch another movie, or do you want to have a little rest? I  think a nap is an excellent idea. We still have another five hours  before we land in Germany, and you don't want to be tired when we get  there, do you?"         



Mrs. P turned her pale blue eyes to me. "I like gold. You must like  gold, too. Isn't it pretty when it glistens in the sunlight?"

"Uh …  pardon?"

She gave me a beatific smile. "I knew your husband when he was a youngling dragon, still learning to control his fire."

"Dragon?" I gawked at her, not sure I heard the word correctly.

"Yes. He has much better manners than you. He would never treat me as if I have no wits left to call my own."

I stared at her for a few seconds, unsure of how to take that. "I  didn't …  I apologize if I seemed rude, Mrs. P, but my husband was most  definitely not a dragon. And for the record, I'm a widow."

She said nothing, just pursed her lips a little, then slid me a gently disappointed look.

"As in, my husband died almost three years ago. And yes, he had lovely  manners, but he's not around anymore, and in fact, when I met him, it  was the first time he'd been to the U.S. He spent most of his time in  Asia running a family business. Let's get you back into your seat. Hello  again, Claudia."

The last sentence was spoken when we approached the woman across the  aisle from our seats, a pleasant woman in her mid-forties who was on her  way to visit family in Germany. She had been very chatty during the  earlier part of the trip, taking an interest in my plight when I  hurriedly explained to her that Mrs. P was an elderly lady in need of  watching. When we stopped at our row, she was holding a book on her lap.

"Ah, you have found the owner of the pink sex toy?" she asked in a voice  that was very slightly German. She tipped her head in question while I  got Mrs. P settled in her chair.

"Yes, thankfully. It was owned by a lady on the other side." Wise to the  ways of Mrs. P, I made sure to buckle her in before relaxing my guard.

"I will watch a movie," Mrs. P graciously allowed. I got her headphones  plugged in, and flipped through her movie choices, stopping when she  said, "That one. No, the one with the male dancer. Did I tell you that I  was a president's hoochie-coo girl?"

"Yes, you mentioned that when I picked you up at your hotel."

"I was quite the dancer in those days, you know. I received many shinies  for my dancing, many pretties that I kept hidden. Men used to ogle me  when I danced, and afterward, they gave me things." She cackled quietly  to herself. "It was a long time ago, a very long time ago, but I  remember it well. I remember each of the shinies given to me, although I  don't remember all of the men. A few I do remember, but they were the  ones who gave me the best pretty things. I won't tell you the  president's name, because I never was one to kiss and tell, but one  time, he wanted me to pretend that he was a walrus-he had a very big  mustache-and that I was a little native girl, and so we got naked while  he took a tub of lard-"

"I'm sure you were an awesome dancer," I interrupted, trying to expunge  the sudden mental image she had generated, "but as I think I mentioned  in L.A., for you to have been that particular president's …  uh …  companion  would mean that you were a very old lady indeed."

Still chortling at her reminiscences, she patted my knee with a gnarled  hand. "Appearances can be deceiving. You remember that, and you'll  survive just fine."

Survive? I didn't realize that was in question. I gave her another  suspicious glance, but she was settled back happily watching her movie.  Mrs. P had a way of inserting an unexpected word into a sentence that  made me feel uncomfortable. And then there was her mention of knowing my  late husband …

"She is quite the character, isn't she?" our rowmate said with a benign smile directed past me toward Mrs. P.

"Hmm? Oh, yes, she surely is that."

"And you said you are going to Egypt together?"

"Cairo," I agreed. "My husband's cousin …  uh …  man, I really can't think  of his name …  he asked me if I'd escort Mrs. P to her Nile river cruise  since he couldn't take her, and she's a bit frail and could use a  helping hand."