Oscar Wilde said, “I adore simple pleasures. They are the last refuge of the complex.”
I looked at my slacks for a stain, and saw only a few droplets of water on my right knee.
She was back instantly with a proper towel. “You’ll need to have that dry cleaned, so let me get a voucher for you.” Flashing a bright smile she lightly squeezed my shoulder before heading back to the aircraft galley.
I wanted to stop her from making this a big deal. After all, it was an eight hour flight and we’d just taken off. There would be other bumps over the Atlantic and other chances for me to be messy.
“Can you please fill this out for me? Is fifty dollars enough?”
“More than enough,” I said, studying her more closely.
My Agency had a rule forbidding employees from traveling together on overseas flights. In theory, the best way was to be on separate planes, but in this case without a lot of options and pressed for time, three of us decided to sit as far from each other in the Boeing 747 as possible. One fellow was somewhere in steerage, knees in his face, fending off families with unruly children. The other guy was in business class, enjoying a little more room and a little more attention from the flight attendants.
I was able to draw the right straw and was sitting in First Class, virtually alone among the huge leather seats and vast spaces between rows. The other person was already asleep, eyeshades on, shoes off, and spread across the aisle ahead of me.
I accepted the $50 voucher and sat back; nursing the Diet Coke that replaced the one she’d spilled. I gazed out the window, seeing little clouds and gathering darkness. The movie was going to start in the back shortly, according to the announcements from the steward, so I busied myself by unwrapping the headset from its plastic envelope. I tried it and found a comfortable volume. I pushed a button and the footrest came out to a 45 degree angle.
She walked up the aisle, casually looking at the sleeper in the first row, and stopped to speak to me. “You know, since the other fellow is asleep, snoring in fact, we, I mean you could forgo the movie, watch it later, eat now, eat later, whatever. I am totally at your service.”
I must have blushed. “Thanks,” I said noticing more about her. She was poised, about 15 to 20 years older than me, I guessed, and very beautiful.
“You make this run often?” She asked, easing into the seat next to me.
“Pan Am? One o three? More than I want to,” I said, watching her brown eyes and pouting lips.
“Live in DC?” She asked.
“I sure do,” I said, forgetting to mention my wife and child. “And you?”
“Hawaii,” she said with a matter-of-fact shrug.
“Nice,” I said. “Where, specifically?”
“Oahu, Kahala actually. This job allows me to commute anywhere I want.”
“Kahala. What a grand place.” I stopped. The male sleeper in the front row snorted and turned over.
“You must see it sometime, I’d love to show you around,” she said softly, touching my arm. “Now, down to business: what can I get you to drink and to eat?”
Following her suggestions I ignored the folded paper menu and ordered a dinner of her making. It was a deftly prepared meal of Chateaubriand, Pommes Anna, and chilled Asparagus. She found the most superior wines and a well-aged brandy from somewhere in the dark recesses of the liquor cabinet. She went back to business and economy class to help others, but for most of the flight we were together, chatting, eating, and drinking. I did not sleep on the flight. It was a memorable eight hours.
As we descended to touchdown at London’s Heathrow Airport she arrived with my coat and held it for me to put on. I thanked her.
She woke the sleeper and handed him a cup of strong airline coffee. She waited for me at the door and shook my hand as I left. From behind her waist she handed me a bottle of Dom Perignon wrapped in a starched white linen napkin. “For you, to your success, and our meeting again,” were her parting words.
I walked down the jet way, then met up with the other two Agency travelers, and kept the bottle of Champagne safely in its white napkin for the rest of the trip. A week or so later at the embassy guest house in Bonn the obsessive German maids must have decided the napkin needed cleaning and pressing, and returned it to me turned inside out, placing it next to the bottle.
Written in an elegant script on the edge of the napkin was a name and a phone number, a little worse for wear after a heavy washing and starching. Still readable though.