As this is posted, it’s 113 years since Wilbur and Orville Wright conducted the first sustained flight of a motor aircraft. Since that time, flight has changed dramatically. Of course, modern air travel has lots of inconveniences, and I’m sure all of you have your own airline ‘horror stories.’ I know I do.
It’s all got me to thinking. At this time of year, many people travel by air, whether it’s to visit friends and family, or to get away for a holiday. Fictional sleuths are no different, if you think about it. So, what would it be like if some of our most famous fictional sleuths took to the air on a modern flight? If you’ll ask your disbelief to go get some snacks and an airport book for the trip, let’s talk about…
When Sleuths Take Flight
I. Miss Marple (Agatha Christie)
Miss Marple approaches the security checkpoint. She is carrying a handbag and a tote bag that contains her knitting and a book.
First Security Officer: Boarding pass and ID, please.
Miss Marple (After fumbling for a moment in her purse for her boarding pass): Here you are.
The security officer glances at the documents and then briefly at Miss Marple. Then, the officer nods and waves a hand towards the conveyer belts. Miss Marple approaches the belt and places her things on the belt as she walks through the metal detector.
Second Security Officer (Holding up Miss Marple’s tote bag): Whose is this bag?
Miss Marple; Why, that’s mine. She steps over to retrieve it, but the security officer holds up a hand to stop her.
Second Security Officer: I’m afraid you can’t take this on board, Madam.
Miss Marple: Whyever not?
Second Security Officer: It’s the knitting needles, Madam. They’re forbidden on the aircraft. You may check them if you wish.
Miss Marple: But then I shall have to go down two floors, through the security checkpoint again, and then quite probably miss my flight.
Second Security Officer: I’m sorry, Madam, but that’s the rule. No knitting needles on board.
Miss Marple (Leaning closer and looking somewhat sorrowful): You know, it would be a real shame, wouldn’t it, if I couldn’t finish this jumper that I’m knitting. It’s a Christmas present, you see. And (drops her voice even lower as her eyes become much shrewder), you wouldn’t want me to mention to your superiors that I saw that open flask in your pocket, would you? She smiles and reaches out for the tote. The security officer hands it back to her wordlessly. She straightens up and, with great dignity, goes on towards the gate.
II.Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle)
Holmes and Dr. Watson are seated on a plane. Watson glances around; Holmes is reading a scholarly paper on bloodstain analysis.
Watson: Quite a nice pair of seats we have, Holmes, wouldn’t you say?
Holmes (Without looking up): I daresay they are comfortable, but the airline has certainly seen better financial days. These seat covers have been repaired at least three times, rather than being replaced. And you’ll note that the overhead compartments are made of a plastic that was last manufactured eight years ago. A solvent airline would replace them with a more modern plastic.
Watson (Now looking out of the window): Holmes! Look here! You can see the entire region!
Holmes: (Glances past Watson’s shoulder at the view from the window). Yes, we are approximately five miles from Ramsgate, heading south. You will observe the way the traces of the Wealdon Dome become quite obvious at this point. He turns back to his paper. Watson snaps down the window shade and, shaking his head, picks up his book.
III. Nero Wolfe (Rex Stout)
Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are sitting in the First Class cabin. Wolfe looks around peevishly, and shifts in his seat.
Wolfe: Confound it, Archie! I cannot possibly be expected to be comfortable in this seat! It was obviously designed for a malnourished ten-year-old street urchin!
Goodwin (Looking pointedly at Wolfe’s bulk): I’m not having any problems. Besides, I figured you were gonna gripe about it, so I got you two seats.
Wolfe: Two!? Preposterous! You see, Archie? This is why I object so strenuously to any kind of travel. There is simply no room to sit. And what will happen when this infernal contraption begins to move?
Goodwin (Shrugs): Best way to get where we’re going. The client lives in Miami. And he’s rolling in it. We want the dough, we go there. Besides, you haven’t wanted to throw a Christmas party in a few years. Might’s well go where it’s warmer.
Wolfe: Hmmph. He tries again to settle into his seat. For a few moments, there’s silence. Archie stretches his legs, slips his fedora over his eyes, and tries to sleep. Meanwhile, Wolfe is looking at the menu card. Then he mutters, grudgingly. Well, at least there’s to be a real meal. Medallions of lamb, baby potatoes, yes, it might be all right. Archie pretends not to hear his boss, but smiles a little.
An hour later….
Archie straightens up and pushes back his fedora. He and Wolfe are getting ready to eat. A flight attendant brings them utensils. Wolfe looks askance at his.
Wolfe: Archie, this isn’t genuine silver.
Goodwin: So? It does the job. Better than what you get at a greasy spoon. He looks up as the attendant returns, this time with covered food dishes. The attendant places some dishes in front of each man and invites them to enjoy their meals. Wolfe suspiciously lifts the lid off his dish.
Wolfe: I don’t like the smell of this, Archie. Not at all. It certainly doesn’t smell like proper medallions of lamb.
Goodwin (already starting to eat his own meal): It’s OK. Give it a try.
Wolfe raises an eyebrow, but slowly picks up his fork and takes a cautious bite. Immediately he winces and drops the fork. He then lets out a stream of incoherent Serbo-Croatian invective. The flight attendant rushes up.
Flight attendant: Is something wrong, sir?
Goodwin: Nah, I think he just bit his tongue a little. He starts to grin as he turns his attention back to his meal.
IV. Kurt Wallander (Henning Mankell)
Wallander is sitting morosely in his Economy Class seat. He is on the aisle. The passenger to his left is wearing a red cap decorated with a pom-pom and sparkles. She turns to Wallander.
Passenger: Don’t you just adore Christmas? I do!! It’s so lovely with all of the lights, and the presents, and the good will!
Wallander nods in an attempt to be polite, and opens a report he has on his lap. Just then, there is an announcement requesting all passengers to pay attention to the safety video. Wallander sighs, puts down his report and looks up at the monitor in front of him. The characters on this particular safety video are all elves, and the whole theme is Christmas joy. When the video finally ends, Wallander picks up his report again. Just then, there’s a noise from across the aisle. Sitting there is a set of parents with two very small children. They’ve begun to sing Christmas songs, clapping to the rhythm and encouraging their youngsters to do the same. A flight attendant, dressed like a Christmas elf, comes down the aisle. She stops when she gets to the front of the cabin.
Flight Attendant: Welcome on board everyone! Now, to get us in the holiday spirit, why don’t we all join this lovely family here and sing some Christmas carols! Won’t that be fun? Wallander signals for the flight attendant and, when he arrives, asks for whisky.
These are just a few examples (space precludes any more from me). Your turn!