LOCAL

Road to Cabo is paved with surprises

Los Angeles International Airport

Bonner loved driving with the top down in Malibu, where it felt like flying above the ocean, but in LAX traffic it was miserable. Genie, though, always insisted that it be left down, and she leaned back in her seat, stretching her arms to either side of her and letting out a satisfied sigh.

"Does the hotel have a free gym wherever it is you're taking me?" she asked, her head still back and her eyes still shut. "I guess I could always just do Pilates, but it's so much nicer when there's machines to use, you know?"

Bonner grunted noncommittally, and reached into his pocket to check that it was still there, because otherwise -- God, his pocket was empty. He checked his other pockets, tasting panic in the back of his mouth for the first time since all this started. If he was late to the Cabo meeting, it was all over. But if he didn't have it with him, then it was like not showing up at all.

Genie opened her eyes and saw him rummaging through his satchel with one hand.

"What now?" she asked, suspiciously.

"Nothing," he said, searching with increased violence, "it's nothing." Suddenly his hand emerged triumphantly. "Aha!" he cried.

It was a black flash drive, labeled with a piece of masking tape on which someone had written in tall, neat letters "The Birds of Paradise."

"What is that?" she asked.

"That," he said, "is another surprise." He put the flash drive into his left jacket pocket and patted it firmly. She pouted, and, when that didn't work, rolled her eyes and screwed up her mouth.

"Fine, keep your secrets. I don't even care." She went back to tanning as he drove past the terminals and entered short-term parking. Ordinarily, he would save money with the distant parking lots, but this time it didn't matter. He wouldn't be coming back for the car anyway.

Genie kept at least five feet between them as they walked toward the terminal. She always did. There had never been any real affection between them. Their marriage was a business deal, an exchange: her looks for his money. That was OK with Bonner. He understood deals.

Which is why it startled him when she leaned in to kiss him as they entered the large air-conditioned check-in area. Her lips lingered on his for a moment, then she retreated and flashed him a flirty smile.

"I have to go to the ladies room," she said.

"Well, don't take too long," he said. "Our flight leaves soon." She smiled again and walked away, leaving her bags with him.

He flipped open his phone while he waited, checking for text messages. Nothing. Ernesto hadn't done the job yet. He glanced at his watch. How long did going to the bathroom take? He decided to go after her and gathered up the oddly light bags.

He stopped. Genie hadn't packed light in her life. He was sure she didn't know how. Dropping his own satchel, he unzipped one of her bags. It was empty. He paused, confused, then opened the second and the third. Empty and empty.

He swore loudly, drawing disapproving glares from a passing couple whose young son was now gawking at Bonner in awe. Ignoring them, he reached into his jacket pocket for the drive and felt nothing but a small slip of paper. He hurriedly unfolded it.

The note was short, and in handwriting he definitely recognized. It said: "Surprise."

Joseph Fink graduated from college last week and is "looking for jobs in which I write things and then people pay me money."

Chapter 3

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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