"That was a close one," Helen sighed beside me, flopping into her seat heavily. "I thought security were going to kill us for sure."
It was my turn to sigh at the gross exaggeration, attempting to face her in the awkward aeroplane chair. "They wouldn't have killed us, Helen. At most, we would have faced incarceration." She shook her head, compelling me to justify my actions. I didn't want to displease the only person that gave a damn about me. "I was simply proving my theory of the holes in their security policy. I clearly pointed out how someone could create and smuggle a small bomb and for their security systems to detect nothing. I was merely doing them a favour."
Helen let out a short laugh. Relief coursed through me, I was off the hook. "You're lucky they didn't slap handcuffs on us right there and then. It's hard enough to get through Belfast airport without you making it look like we're plotting something." She wagged her fingers at me in a scolding manner but she had a large grin on her face.
"I am plotting something," I gave her a pointed look. Vacant expression from Helen. Further explanation was needed. I fished out the map, the case that had consumed my life for the last few weeks. I gestured to the tiny spots I had dotted over it. "Montmatre, Paris. A five. Trafalgar Square, London. A one. St. Stephen's Square, Dublin. A six. Sheridan Circle, Washington D.C. A three. Meaning the next one-"
"Nina,what the hell is this?" Helen's grin faded.
"Come on, Helen. You're twenty three, you watch the news. You know what this is. People are being murdered, found dead in huge tourist areas. In the open air! According to my hypothesis, the next location is in New York where-"
"Where you're taking us!" Helen said, before lowering her voice at the sight of the alarmed passengers. "Nina, you're thirteen. You have no right to do this without even telling me. You said you wanted a holiday, we were going to get away from it all. Not dive straight back into it!"
I cringed at the wounded looks Helen was shooting me. She was the only person who cared, she looked after me when no one else would. But this was big, I knew it. Something huge was happening and I wasn't going to miss it. Stepsister or no stepsister. I steeled my nerves and continued.
"Helen, don't worry. I know I can do this. I've never been wrong before." I shrugged nonchalantly. Helen gritted her teeth and turned away, gazing out of the window. She was trembling. Fear? No. Anger? A valid possibility. I had never excelled at interpreting facial cues but right now, there was no doubt. I had hurt Helen. It didn't matter, I told myself. I would solve this case and prove myself to her. I'm never wrong, after all.
I twirled the little article within my finger and thumb, running them along the soft edge. Almost a perfect monochrome, with no hint of coarseness.
"Nina, put that down!" Helen pleaded. I did as I was told. "Magpie feathers are bad luck," she explained sheepishly.
I couldn't hold back a laugh. "Superstitions will be the death of you, Helen."
She frowned but didn't press the issue. "So, in the whole of New York, you're sure that they'll be here?" Helen questioned, rubbing her temples. Jet lag, I surmised. It was fogging up my brain but I remained focused.
"I'm always sure." We rounded the corner of the street and I smiled to myself. "Told you so." I indicated the swarm of police cars, cutting off the normal euphoric hub-bub of Time's Square. I got as close as I dared to the scene, it filled me with a sense of satisfaction. I was right. Several officers were crowded around a figure. Male. Mid-thirties, at a guess. My eyes instantly scanned the body for what I was looking for. There it was. A four. Interesting. Same as the others, he had a small drawing etched onto his palms. A bird. From this distance, though, it was impossible to make it out.
I broke away from Helen, pushing and shoving and elbowing my way through the mass. Strong arms reached out and grabbed me, but I shook them away. I had to see it for myself. I was so desperate to see it, to analyze it, to figure it out, I collided straight into someone's back. A someone that would change everything.