Imagine The Fugitive meets Gone Girl.

It happens more than you might think. One second someone’s life is totally typical, the next it’s terribly tragic. Everything they had, everything they planned, everything they were, all of it vanished in a flash due to a single devious deed.
The shock leaves the victim staring into tomorrow’s void. How is it possible? Who did it? And why?

What would you do if you woke to find that someone had framed you for a horrible crime, and the police were at your door? What if the evidence were so compelling that even you had doubts? Would you collapse? Surrender? Question your sanity? Or would you do whatever it takes to save yourself—and what’s left of your family?

Twisted Lives

Chapter 1
Bad Conduct

Airborne over the Pacific Ocean

I SENSED THAT I WAS SCREWED the minute the man in 2A pulled the first-class flight attendant onto his lap. He wasn’t a suspected terrorist, but nonetheless, my gut twitched the way it does when fate flips a bad card and your subconscious sees a losing hand.

I didn’t heed the warning.

I immediately began second-guessing my instincts the way people do when they don’t like the message. It could be a false alarm. Those happen, right? Or maybe that sensation was the burrito I’d grabbed before boarding at SFO?

If I were on the flight as a civilian, there’d be no dilemma. I’d insert myself between her and him and that would be the end of it. A guy my size doesn’t need a badge. I can usually solicit cooperation with little more than a lingering look.

As the Federal Air Marshal upstairs in first class, however, the decision wasn’t that simple. I was there on official government business. Very serious business. I was only permitted to break cover during extreme circumstances. Things on par with terrorist activity. Covid had hammered that policy home.

When fights erupt on flights because a passenger refuses to wear a mask, we FAMs do not interfere. Likewise, we refrain from intervening when someone claims the wrong seat or refuses to leave the toilet. The government puts us on planes to save lives, not to combat selfishness or counter stupidity. Those were airline problems. Solving them was up to the crew.

Unfortunately, this situation fell in the gray zone. Passenger 2A was not endangering the aircraft, but he was assaulting an individual. His behavior was brazenly criminal. Meanwhile, it was safe to say that I was the only passenger in that cabin with handcuffs and a Glock.

Still, my gut was twitching a warning.


A couple of years back, a non-subject had captured my attention for a very different reason. That passenger, whose demographic profile happened to match that of most terrorists, was showing several classic signs of a suicide bomber. He was sweating, acting nervous, and wearing a blank stare.

I’d leapt into action without breaking cover. My fast, analytical thinking ultimately earned me the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Valor award, not for saving the plane but for saving his life—with CPR. He’d been having a heart attack.

I decided to give Maylin a moment to extricate herself from the obnoxious Chinese drunk in blue jeans and black boots. Maybe I’d sold her short. Maybe the scheduler knew something I didn’t. Maybe her earlier protestations had been designed to heighten his desire. Jumping to conclusions was dangerous in my line of work.

The first-class cabin on our overnight flight boasted fourteen “open suites.” Row one had only the two window seats, whereas the next three rows had the windows plus two aisle suites in the middle. Each of the fourteen occupied roughly the same footprint as six economy chairs, and they were priced accordingly.

My partner and I were both senior special agents with the Federal Air Marshals, but it was my turn for the big seats, so he was downstairs in coach. I was seated two rows back from the action across the first aisle in 4E, so I couldn’t see what was going on in suite 2A. Resisting the urge to improve my view by standing, I tried waiting for another passenger or flight attendant to intervene before doing anything that would blow my cover.

No such luck.

As the assaulted attendant squirmed in silence, I rose and walked up the aisle. 2A had one hand across Maylin’s mouth and another beneath her breast. His lips were to her ear.
“Could I get another cup of coffee?” I asked her, as if nothing was amiss.

“She’s busy. Get your own coffee,” 2A replied with a hard stare.

As he spoke, the men in 2E and 2F rose. They were also Chinese and, like 2A, appeared to be in their early thirties. They were also wearing blue jeans, black boots, and what I called Versace shirts. Bright, bold patterns that screamed of excessive spending on famous streets or in airport duty-free shops.

The closest passenger put his hand on my shoulder. The other stepped around to face me head on. “I’ll get your coffee. You take your seat. Best way to avoid turbulence,” he said, smiling at his own joke as he bathed me in booze breath.

One might think that Federal Air Marshals get the same passenger manifests that flight attendants do, but we don’t. I knew the identity and background of my subject, the nuclear physicist in 3A, and I’d have information on his traveling companions if he had any, which he didn’t. That was it. I knew nothing about anyone else, including the party I was now confronting.

The group appeared to be affluent, athletic, Chinese nationals. Whereas the average wage in China was under $5/hour, each of these men had the means and mindset to spend over $500/hour to improve their comfort on a twelve-hour flight. All three exuded a strong vibe of arrogant entitlement and yet somehow none had been punched in the nose hard enough to break it. I concluded they were protected.

My best guess was that 2A’s daddy was a big man in China. 2E and 2F were probably either friends with similar status, or 2A’s entourage.

Despite that deduction, I continued to ignore my stomach’s warning.

“Gentlemen, if you want to spend time with Maylin when she’s not working, you’re welcome to extend her an invitation to join you in Beijing. During the flight, however, we’re all equally entitled to her services.”

I turned back to the flight attendant. “Coffee please, Maylin. Same as before.”

She attempted to rise, but 2A didn’t release his grip.

While the assailant and I were locked in a silent staring contest, 2F returned from the galley with a coffee pot and porcelain mug. He extended both until they were just inches from my nose. “Problem solved. Here’s your own personal pot. Would you like cream or sugar?”

I’m fit enough that I can keep my kit under the front of my shirt without anybody noticing. A custom holster gives me quick and easy access to my knife, firearm, and handcuffs, among other accessories. I knew for a fact that I could have my Glock 19 in Mr. Coffee’s face before he detected movement. Unfortunately, a move like that would expose my status and escalate the situation.

Fortunately, I wasn’t some young buck eager to show off the size of his sack. At 41, I had decades of experience carrying a badge and nothing but wisdom to prove.

Staring into 2F’s taunting, drunk eyes, I scrambled to find a way to finish the standoff without creating the kind of scene that would end up on the nightly news, compliments of someone’s cell phone video. Preferably some scenario that wouldn’t alert 3A to the fact that I was anything other than a chivalrous passenger. But it was three against one, 2A was not relenting, and my options were limited.

I’d underestimated the assailant’s status. Standing there in the thick of an unpredictable twist, I found myself wishing that I’d strictly followed protocol and texted my partner before rising to the rescue. That breach of procedure would become the key learning point in my after action report. Management liked it when you cited those.

On the upside, my cover was still intact. With a bit of luck, I’d be able to keep it that way and there’d be no AAR.
I slowly raised both hands and accepted the pot and mug with a modest bow. When 2E didn’t release my shoulder, I pivoted my gaze his way until he withdrew his hand, at which point I directed another disarming bow in his direction.

Having eased the tension by courteously accepting the beverage service, I spun around to leave and sloshed some coffee onto the would-be rapist’s head in the process. The pot proved to be completely full, so he got more of a dunking than I’d intended, but his immediate reaction remained as expected.
2A bolted up out of his chair, hurling the flight attendant from his lap as he roared and frantically wiped his face.

I slipped back into my assigned seat as the commotion woke the sleeping passengers and attracted another flight attendant. Crisis averted, I told myself, patting my own back. Flight attendant rescued, cover intact, nobody hurt, nothing special to see.

My satisfaction was short lived.

Rather than rapidly dying down as commotions tend to do after spills, the ruckus only grew. It was in Mandarin, so the details escaped me, but in the midst of it, 2F returned to the galley only to emerge a second later with a piece of paper I recognized: the passenger manifest.

While I was digesting the fact that the spoiled Chinese scions now knew that my name was Felix Sparks, the captain came on the intercom and requested that medical doctors identify themselves by pressing their call button.

Eavesdropping on the English discussion with the responding physician, my stomach experienced another twist. Apparently, the coffee had been scalding—and I’d hit 2A in the eye.

"Absolutely Fabulous."

"The countless twists kept me craving more."

"The ending left me speechless."