I flashed my badge as I entered the cockpit. “Agent Sharp,” I said, stepping through the doorway. The pilot had not yet looked up.
“Yeah, and I’m Special Officer Peter Carlin. Get out of my cockpit, lady.”
I had dealt with his type before. He demanded respect, regardless of whether he deserved it. I thought about putting him in his place, but I decided to go with finesse. It was less work, and you got into a lot fewer fights that way. I took a step back through the opening that served as an entrance to the tiny cockpit. “Sorry to interrupt,” I said in my most humble tones. “But if you’ll have a look at my badge, I think you’ll see that I am, in fact, a detective, and I’d just like to ask you a few questions.”
The pilot, Carlin, still didn’t look around. He was fumbling with some dials. Twenty years at this job and I still didn’t understand what any of those levers, dials, and digital displays were all about. They weren’t my problem. But this guy was starting to be.
“I’m busy flying the airship, in case you hadn’t noticed. Any questions you have, just go ahead and ask. I have work to do, and fifteen lives to protect. Sixteen, if I’m expected to include yours.”
“I’d appreciate it if you did. But I assure you, this won’t take long. I just need to know where you were the afternoon of March seventh.”
The pilot paused a moment before answering. “What day of the week was that?”
“Thursday. Last Thursday.”
I noticed his shoulders sag – a sign of either relief or despair, depending on what his face was doing. And I couldn’t see his face.
“I was home sick last Thursday. Why, who wants to know?”
Home sick. That was what the records said, too – but did he have any proof? “Is there anyone who can confirm that, Mr. Carlin?”
“Yeah, my wife and our three kids, two of whom caught it from me and are home throwing up right this moment. It was a relief to come into work today and get away from the smell.”
“What about the third one?”
“I caught it from her.”
Children. They really were little bags of disease, there was no doubt about that. I was glad to have stepped out of the cockpit and gotten a little distance from the pilot.
“And you think it was a responsible decision on your part to come into work today, to pilot a vehicle containing over a dozen innocent people who could contract your illness at any moment?”
He flipped another switch. “I wash my hands plenty and my clothes are clean. I’m not sick. The people are fine.”
He was calm, confident. Maybe he was telling the truth – or maybe it was just the easy manner of the compulsive liar, the one who knows he can get away with it. If only I could get a good look at his face.
“And you don’t think you pose any danger to the good people riding this zeppelin?”
That did it. He whipped around, a deep crease in his brow and a sour look on your face. “This is a blimp, lady. Get your facts straight before you go interrogating innocent people. Have a little respect.”
He swung back around and glared at one of the dials. He wouldn’t be cooperative anymore, but no matter. The information I needed was written in plain text right across his eyes: he didn’t know anything about the vandalism.