“Watson, look!” Skyler Hobbs pointed over my shoulder, his eyes distended. “That woman is a man!”
“The name’s Wilder,” I reminded him. “Jason Wilder.” Careful not to look, I turned him around and aimed him toward the airport security checkpoint. “This is Portland, Hobbs. We take pride in our diversity.”
“Computer Doctor. Now put your shoes in that plastic tub. You’re next.”
With a deep sigh, he complied. I sighed too. It would be a miracle if I got him past security, let alone onto an airplane. My friend Skyler Hobbs, you see, has never flown. You could hardly expect less from a man convinced he’s the reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes.
His shoes removed, Hobbs stood facing a fat man in Transportation Security Officer’s uniform.
The TSO looked at Hobbs’ feet. “Where’s your other sock?”
“Pinned to my fireplace, of course. Holding my shag tobacco."
The officer wrinkled his nose. “You’ll have to remove that leprechaun hat. And the horse blanket. Both go in the tubs.”
I steeled myself for trouble. Hobbs was quite proud of his deerstalker cap and Inverness cape.
“This is not mere raiment,” Hobbs said, “but part of my persona.”
“In the tubs,” the fat man said, “or you don’t fly.”
Hobbs glared back at me, his meaning clear. This was my fault. I was the one who’d sold the story of our first adventure to Ellery Queen, and no sooner had it appeared than a wacked-out dowager in Omaha had wired us first-class tickets, insisting we fly out to find her lost Chihuahua. Hobbs had balked, of course, but I’d reminded him that both our bank accounts were on death’s door.
Hobbs was unbuttoning his cape when he went stiff as a pointer, aimed a finger and said, “Look!”
As the security officer turned, Hobbs darted through the metal detector and slipped past him. The fat man scrambled after, shouting for assistance.
In an instant, three other TSOs joined the chase. But Hobbs stopped short, thrust his hand into the pocket of a traveler tying his shoes, and plucked out a plastic flask. “Inflammable liquid!” he crowed. “You’ve been derelict in your duty.”
The officers all scowled. One snatched the flask and sniffed it. "Bourbon."
As the offender was hauled off for a cavity search, the fat TSO jabbed a finger at Hobbs. “One more stunt, and you’re on the No-Fly list.”
Hobbs stared back at him, refusing to be cowed. In the time I had known him, he had never betrayed a hint of fear.
“Back to the metal detector.” The man grabbed Hobbs by the arm. “We’re trying this again.”
Hobbs took one step. Then his head swiveled toward a busty blonde in a tight red sweater. “Wait!” Before the officer could react, Hobbs broke free and galloped toward the woman, arms outstretched.
And time seemed to stop. TSOs and travelers alike froze in astonishment as Hobbs’ hands closed upon the blonde’s ample bosom.
The woman shrieked, and time kicked into high speed. Security officers pounced on Hobbs from all directions, but he clung tenaciously to the woman’s breasts, and the whole crowd went down in a squirming heap.
A TSO yanked a Taser from his belt. I found my wits and dashed forward, yelling, “Stop!”
This got everyone’s attention just long enough for Hobbs to shout, “Look, Watson! She’s a man!”
“Wilder,” I said. But so she was. The blond wig had popped loose in the struggle, exposing a buzz cut. One breast perched on a shoulder, while the other dangled from an armpit.
The officers all stared, bewildered.
“Hobbs,” I said, “I told you this is Portland, and we—”
“Your diversity is all well and good,” Hobbs said. “But this fellow’s brassiere is stuffed with high grade cocaine.”
The guards who’d escorted us to the parking lot waited with hands on their holsters.
I fired up the PT Cruiser. “How did you know?”
“She had an Adam’s apple.”
“Not that. About the coke.”
“His nostrils.” Hobbs tapped his nose. “Caked with white crystals.”
“But you couldn’t have seen that until you’d grabbed him.”
“Let’s be underway, shall we?” Hobbs was smiling now, looking contented for the first time since we’d received the tickets. “I am quite famished after all that exercise.”
I stared at him. “You—you didn’t know…” I might have said more, but he was gazing out the car window, ignoring me.
And it suddenly came together. He hadn’t known about the coke. He’d thrown that wingding on purpose, because he wanted to be put on the No-Fly list. He was not quite as fearless as he seemed. Skyler Hobbs was afraid to fly!
I got the car moving. “What do we tell your client in Omaha?”
“Tell her she reads too many detective stories. And to look for her lost Chihuahua at the nearest Taco Bell.” He extracted the unused boarding pass from his pocket and waved it under my nose. “Tell me, Doctor. Are these tickets redeemable for cash?”
© 2009 by Evan Lewis
Note: The tale that so inspired the Omaha dowager appeared in the Feb. 2010 issue of EQMM. Hobbs and Wilder's second adventure, "Skyler Hobbs and the Rollback Bandit," appears in the Untreed Reads anthology, Discount Noir.
This story was written for the Steve Weddle Memorial Airport Flash Fiction Challenge, sponsored by Dan O'Shea of Going Ballistic.