As usual, Aimee’s most bothersome hangover manifestation was the sensation of a vice tightening across her forehead. Shaky and nauseous, she gritted her teeth, praying to the god of bad decisions to guide her to the gate so she could nap before her quick flight back to Cleveland. After passing through the metal detector at the security checkpoint, her backpack glided out of the x-ray scanner. She fumbled to pick it up before turning back to grab her beaten up sneakers from the next bin, except the next small round dish contained an elegant black leather Fendi card case lying on top of a paper boarding pass. Her hand had already been reaching for the sneakers and before her brain processed the unexpected bin contents, she had picked up the case and the pass. Her sneakers came out next and she took them with her other hand, shuffling away from the conveyor belt towards the bench. Setting the case and pass down, she collapsed onto the red vinyl, then wedged her ice-cold feet into her sneakers. Looking up again, she expected to see someone wealthy looking distraught since surely the owner of the card case and pass had been right behind her in line and would have noticed immediately that they were missing.
Upon her eventual interrogation, Aimee would swear that she picked these items up without thinking, and with every intention to turn them in immediately; however when asked why she didn’t actually do so, her mind was blank.
Before standing up from the bench, she checked the gate number – E7, PHL to CLE – on her own boarding pass and then on a whim flipped the other boarding pass over. It said “Highbridge, Elizabeth. PHL to SFO. Seat 2A. Gate B13.” Aimee shoved both passes and the card case in her front jeans pocket and slowly stood up, fighting waves of dizziness and wondering if the lights in airports needed to be so bright. She began walking to the E gates but stopped in the restroom on the way.
After releasing a trickle of burnt orange urine, she put her head in her hands, just for a moment of peace and darkness. It came to her then – SFO was San Francisco! She had never been to San Francisco but had wanted to see Alcatraz since writing a paper on escape attempts from the notorious prison as a liberal interpretation of a high school assignment. Idly, she wondered what this Elizabeth Highbridge was planning to do in San Francisco. Visit a friend? A business meeting? Still slumped pants-down on the toilet, she pried the card case out of her jeans and examined the contents. There were two sleek metal credit cards and a New York State drivers license with a photo of Elizabeth Highbridge. Although based on her birthday she was eleven years older, Elizabeth looked surprisingly like Aimee, or at least what Aimee imagined she would look like with a multi-step skin care routine, adequate hydration, tasteful make-up, and a professional blow-out. There was nothing else in the card case, which seemed so elegantly minimal as to be almost unbelievable. Elizabeth must have a fabulous life indeed to travel so light.
In contrast, Aimee had an overstuffed backpack and two checked bags on the way to Cleveland. Waiting for her there were her irate parents, ready to confront her about squandering their trust and more importantly their money, so much money, on graduate school for sociology, which she had just failed. She would also have to tell them about Jason, and why the breakup meant she had to come home instead of staying in the apartment she was supposed to be sharing with friends and getting a job, which meant confessing that she had been spending the rent money they had been sending not on rent but on mostly alcohol, and occasionally pills, and a lot of greasy food. She didn’t even have a plan for where to start the conversation.
The sludge of her mind churning then generated the flicker on an idea – what if she just didn’t? Didn’t go to Cleveland, but went to San Francisco instead? She had a boarding pass that no one seemed to be missing. The rational side of her brain, subdued by a thick residue of vodka, tried to interject logical obstacles like “what would happen when she ran into the real Elizabeth Highbridge at the gate? And what would she do when she got to San Francisco?” but she brushed these off. Suddenly her head felt clear, like a pressure had been lifted. She would try it and worse case scenario end up back on her Cleveland flight, and best case scenario have an adventure! Standing, she pulled her pants up, quickly washed her hands, and purposefully reversed direction towards gate B13.
Luckily, the flight was boarding when she arrived. Keeping her head down, Aimee shakily presented the boarding pass for scanning. The machine beeped, and the gate agent said brightly, “Ms. Highbridge! Welcome. I hope you enjoy your flight, please let us know how we can best serve you.” That seemed a little strange but it wasn’t the first time everyone in the world seemed to be perkier than Aimee, and she didn’t think much of it until the flight attendant met her at boarding and escorted her directly to a seat in the second row of the first class cabin. Surely this was a mistake, she thought, glancing down at the boarding pass which did in fact say “2A”.
“Welcome Ms. Highbridge, wonderful to have you on board. What can I get you to drink?” the attendant trilled.
Looking across the aisle, Aimee noticed her neighbor had a mimosa, so she requested one too and downed it in one gulp before buckling her seat belt and falling asleep for take off and the entire flight.
Six hours later, Aimee rubbed her eyes, feeling gravity change as the plane descended. “The current weather in San Francisco is 58 and overcast. We will be arriving at gate D16, and using baggage claim 3.”
San Francisco? She had a moment of deep confusion before remembering she had put herself in this position. Thinking more clearly, she realized she should at least text her parents and tell them she wouldn’t be at the airport. What would happen to her luggage upon arrival in Cleveland? More pressingly, what the hell was she going to do in San Francisco? Where even was Alcatraz? As soon as the plane bumped onto the runway, she clicked her phone off airplane mode and started looking at public transportation maps, something Elizabeth Highbridge surely would never have needed to do.
As Aimee strolled through the gleaming airport, she checked her bank account, and calculated how much she would need for the inevitable return flight and therefore how much she could spend on a hotel for a few nights. She felt reckless but also alive in a way she hadn’t for the last nine months. On the cusp of realizing it had been at least six hours since she thought about having a drink, a man in a black suit with a kind face tapped her shoulder.
“Ms. Highbridge?” he asked deferentially. Aimee noticed he was holding a sign which said the name as well. Without consciously deciding to do so, she nodded.
“I’m Ramon, I will be your driver. Do you have any checked luggage to collect?” That was a good question – would Elizabeth Highbridge have checked luggage? Probably, and she definitely wouldn’t be carrying a backpack, but it seemed safer to say no than to hang around the airport waiting for it with a chance of being spotted by the real Elizabeth Highbridge. Aimee shook her head.
“Great, the car is right out here,” Ramon replied. Emerging from the airport into the fog, Ramon guided her to a sleek black Mercedes, taking her backpack and opening the back door for her. The car glided away from the curb and into traffic, Aimee trying to camouflage the awe on her face as she gazed out at the city. Scrumptiously she checked the map on her phone, figuring out that they seemed to be heading downtown, hopefully to a hotel and not to any kind of meeting or social engagement for which she was completely underdressed and unprepared. Unfortunately, she couldn’t exactly ask Ramon where they were going.
A short time later, Aimee gasped as the car pulled into the entryway of the Four Seasons. Ramon opened the door and handed her backpack to a porter as she reached out for it. Awkwardly lowering her arm, she thanked him, and entered the lobby. High on adrenaline and completely out of place in the elegant surroundings, Aimee forced herself to move towards the check-in desk, batting away a few pesky thoughts of the reality and potential consequences of what she was doing, and had already done.
“Ms. Highbridge, welcome back,” the elegant desk clerk greeted her. “We have your room arranged on the usual account.” Apologetically, he continued, “I just need your signature here,” gently pushing a piece of paper towards her.
Without overthinking it, Aimee scribbled an unintelligible symbol. They seemed to know Elizabeth well here, surely they would have her signature on file. Is this how she would get caught? Was it better or worse that she hadn’t needed to produce a technically stolen credit card and ID for check in? Was this identity theft or just theft, and if identity, wasn’t that a federal crime since September 11th? Starting to panic, she realized she had to get out of there but needed her backpack. Purposefully striding over to the elevator bank, she resolved to go up to the room, retrieve her backpack, and leave right away. It might look suspicious, but they surely wouldn’t follow her.
Arriving at the pre-selected floor, she wandered the silent, pristine hallway until she found the porter, waiting at the open door of the most gorgeous hotel room she had even seen. It was three times the size of Jason’s studio apartment in Philadelphia, and the furniture looked like it belonged in a design museum. There were floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the Golden Gate bridge emerging through the fog. Surely it couldn’t hurt to just relax for a minute – in fact it would probably be even better to leave the card case in the room and slip out with her backpack to find a hotel she could afford and make an actual plan.
The porter slunk away after not receiving a tip, and the door closed softly behind him, leaving her alone. She wiggled her sneakers off – the floor was too clean for those shoes - and sat gingerly on the edge of an exorbitantly expensive-appearing chair. Upon reaching the drink section of the room service menu she was idly browsing, a loud knocking at the door startled her.
“Elizabeth Highbridge, open the door! We know you’re in there!” followed by a brief pause. “Ms. Highbridge you are under arrest for murder, if you don’t open the door right now we will be entering. I repeat, we have a warrant for your arrest for capital murder.”