FREE FRIDAYS: WEEKEND READING—ON US.

Irreparable Harm

Melissa F. Miller

Somewhere in the air over Blacksburg, Virginia

The old man checked his new gold watch, given in appreciation for his fifty years of service to the City of Pittsburgh. He lifted the window screen and pressed his head against the oval window in the side of the plane. The glass was cold against his papery skin. Somewhere, out in the darkness, the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia rose up from the land. He looked hard but couldn’t see them.

He pulled the screen back down, more sharply than he’d intended, and glanced over at his seatmates. They didn’t react to the noise. Next to him, sat a thin, college-aged girl who had squeezed herself into the middle seat, jammed her earbuds into her ears, and closed her eyes, lost in her music; beside her, a businessman, mid-level management, no higher, judging by the wrinkled suit and battered briefcase. Like a good business traveler, he used the flight to catch up on his sleep. His head lolled back on the headrest and his leg dangled into the aisle.

The man coughed into his fist and remembered the last time he had flown. It had been almost ten years. His youngest daughter and her husband, the struggling actor, had flown him and his wife out to Los Angeles to be there for the birth of their first child—his fourth grandchild, but the first girl. Maya had entered the world squealing, and, at least based on the weekly phone calls he had with her mother, it seemed she hadn’t ever stopped. He chuckled to himself at the thought and immediately felt his eyes well up. He blinked and twisted the thin gold band on his ring finger. His mind turned to his Rosa. Fifty-two years together.

He hacked again and dug a handkerchief out of his pocket to wipe his mouth. After folding the white cloth back into a careful square, he checked his watch again, fumbled with the smartphone on his lap, squinted at it to confirm the coordinates were correct, and hit SEND. Then Angelo Calvaruso sat back, closed his eyes, and relaxed—completely relaxed—for the first time in weeks.

Two minutes later, Hemisphere Air Flight No. 1667, a Boeing 737 en route from Washington National to Dallas-Fort Worth International, slammed into the side of a mountain at full speed and exploded in a fiery wave of metal and burning flesh.

The offices of Prescott & Talbott

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Sasha McCandless blew the eyeshadow residue off the tiny mirror of the makeup palette she kept in the top left drawer of her desk and checked her reflection. The drawer was her home away from home. It held a travel toothbrush and toothpaste, a tin of mints, an unopened box of condoms, makeup, a spare pair of contact lenses, a pair of glasses, and a brush. She smiled at herself and opened the drawer again, tore open the box, and popped a condom into her beaded handbag.

She shrugged out of the gray cashmere cardigan she’d worn over her black sheath dress all day and kicked off her pumps. She dug around in the credenza behind her desk until she found her fun shoes under a pile of discarded draft briefs, destined for the shredder. She pushed the papers aside and pulled out her shoes. She was wrestling with the tiny red strap on her left stiletto when she heard the ping of an e-mail hitting her in-box.

“No, no, no,” she moaned, as she slowly straightened. She had not had a proper date in weeks. She hoped against hope that the e-mail would reveal no emergency motions, no ranting clients, no last-minute calls to substitute for a deposition in Omaha, or Detroit, or New Orleans.

She needed a steak, a bottle of overpriced red wine, and candlelight. She did not need another night of lukewarm Chinese takeout at her desk.

Almost afraid to look, she clicked on the envelope icon and breathed out, smiling. It was just a Google news alert about a client. She had set up news alerts for all the clients she worked for. It always impressed the partners when she knew what was going on with their clients before they did. Scared them a little, too.

Hemisphere Air was Peterson’s biggest client. She opened the e-mail to see why it was in the news. Maybe a merger? It was one of the healthier airlines and had been looking to pick off a smaller competitor, especially after Sasha and Peterson had gotten it out of that little antitrust mess.

Sasha’s green eyes widened and then fell as she scanned the e-mail. Flight 1667, three-quarters full, en route from D.C. to Dallas, had just crashed in Virginia, killing all 156 people onboard.

She wriggled out of the party shoes and picked up the phone to ruin her date’s night. Then she dialed Peterson’s mobile number to ruin his.

Noah Peterson’s home phone rang at almost the same moment his cell phone began to blare out some unrecognizable piece of classical music in the public domain. Both sat on his bedside table. Noah didn’t lift his head from his magazine.

Laura waited a minute to see if he would move. He didn’t, so she sighed deeply, placed a bookmark in her novel, and reached over to shake his arm. Noah had developed a habit of dozing off while reading in bed. Laura had no idea how he found that position comfortable enough for sleeping, and she didn’t understand why he was so tired all the time lately. He’d always kept long hours at the office, but the pace seemed to be getting to him more these days.

“Noah, phone. Phones, actually.” She shook his forearm harder.

Noah started and pushed his reading glasses, which had slid down his nose, back up to the bridge. He grabbed his cell phone and passed the house phone to Laura to deal with. Squinting at the display, he recognized Sasha McCandless’ office number.

“Mac, slow down,” he said over the torrent of words pouring out of his senior associate. Then he sat, silent, listening, his shoulders sagging under the weight of what Sasha was saying.

Laura tugged on his sleeve, covering the mouthpiece with her hand, and stage whispered, “It’s Bob Metz.”

Noah nodded. Metz was the general counsel of Hemisphere Air.

“Mac, Metz is on my home line. Stay put. Make some coffee. I’ll see you soon.” He flipped the phone shut.

Laura handed him the house phone and he headed into his closet to dress while he placated the troubled man on the other end of the line.

Soft warm light puddled down from the brass-armed sconces that bracketed each side of the headboard, bathing Laura in a romantic glow. She’d paid a princely sum for that attractive lighting, but it was rarely used for its intended purpose. In hindsight, reading light would have been more useful. She scooted over to claim the center of the king bed with its high-thread count sheets and cashmere blankets; it sounded like she would have the luxury all to herself tonight. Again. She opened her book to the marked spot to resume her reading.

Irreparable Harm