When you're sitting there on the plane, at the jetway, waiting for the pushoff, the game everyone plays is the seatmate lotto. You watch the line of wayward souls making their way down the length of the passenger deck. You make assessments based on your mood and their outward appearance. Grandma looks like a bland chatterbox. The corporate road warrior in the logo'd polo shirt will boot his laptop the moment he sits down and that's the last you'll hear from him. You are going to be paired with someone for several hours - most of the time the person you get is pretty value neutral: you exchange pleasantries, everyone has practiced good personal hygiene, and the time passes. Sometimes you win, like the time I had a crazy female paratrooper from 101st Airborne describe the time she caught a compound fracture during a jump. Sometimes you lose, like the time a wheezing, sweating Chinese programmer sneezed a loogie onto the back of my neck the size of a fried egg. That nearly came to blows, ending with my scrubbing down my entire upper body in the early space-age sized lavatory. This latest time I won, big time. At least I think I did...

I saw her coming down the aisle - pigtails and a Stanford sweatshirt. As I looked back down at my book, I thought to myself, "I could do worse in the Lotto than having her park it next to me..."

And then there she was, in the seat next to me. About five foot ten, her smooth skin tanned from a summer outdoors, bright bright blue eyes, and all of 17 years old. Which, in addition to fact that the Igloo, yours truly, has a long-time girlfriend, safely placed Ms. Stanfordina Pigtails deep into quasi-taboo territory. But everybody gets everything they want - I wanted an interesting seatmate, and for my sins they gave me one.

I was flying up to Portland to see my buddy Whitey and climb Mt St Helens. She asked if the seat was taken. She said that she was from Portland, heading home before heading out to college at NYU. I asked how old she was, I had to know. She told me she was 17 and then asked if I was from Portland, or visiting Portland.

I explained that it was the latter. I told her I lived in Los Angeles.

"What do you do?" She asked.

"I'm a writer."

"What do you write?"

"I'm a screenwriter. I just started working on a novel"

"What's that book you're reading?"

This series of questions was hammer fast, 20 seconds flat "The West Wing" corridor banter fast. I had forgotten how dangerously quick teenage girls could be, having not encountered them in the wild in some time.

I had been reading John Douglas's Anatomy of a Motive. I explained that Douglas had been the chief forensic psychologist at the FBI, their head criminal profiler. I didn't know it, but I would be locking in the next 2 hours of conversation.

Apparently she had taken a psychology class in high school and was quote, "really really fascinated with serial killers." At first, I thought this might be a conversational gambit, a feigned interest. But no - she was true to her word, tirelessly questioning me on everything I knew about the perpetrators of serial violence. She wanted to know why I knew so much, and I admitted that I was also obsessed with serial killers - to the extent that I (sheepishly) consider myself something of an armchair profiler.

So I spoke with her like I speak with all teenagers, like an adult. To say that she was amped was something of an understatement. To have her every question answered in a clinical, pull-no-punches manner must have been a new one on her. She kept pushing the envelope, in a bid, conscious or otherwise, to see if she could push me far enough to make me clam up. She's done her share of reading, and kept tossing me softballs, seeing if I'd swing. I figured she was almost 18, getting ready to go off to school, so what the hell: serial rapists, ritual mutilation, lust killers vs. assassin personalities - we covered the ground to such an extent that we were beginning to draw stares, angry stares from mother-looking types that were pretty unhappy with my experiment in candor. All the while, I was wondering about my motives in this. She was attractive, bright-eyed, mentally quick, a verbal speedball.

In taking her bait and taking the gloves off on serial violence, what was I trying to do? Distance her, shock her, titillate her, all of the above, none of the above? On Southwest Airlines, it's open seating. I saw her see me, pick her seat and sit down. When she started talking, I was flattered and gratified. The moment she sat down and I noticed how pretty she was I felt like a creep. Because it wasn't "What a pretty little gal," but more like, "Say, she's kind of a Betty." Now I was talking about men who would sexually torture their victims for days before killing them. And the more I kept talking the serial killer bebop, the more jazzed she seemed to get. A grown 31 year-old man and a 18 year-old, a delta of 13 years, working each up into a lather over the difference between a spree killer and a mass murderer. I guess I would have stopped had she evinced horror or disgust, but her open delight, alloyed with a kind of girlish flirtyness only fanned the flames of a very strange fire.

It was the blending of the personal and the clinical that was capped the surreality. It was like being on a strange talkshow. I told her that I was a writer, that I was a filmmaker. How I had worked for years to break into the business and it looked like things were finally coming together. She told me she had been a model and hated it (yes, she really was that pretty). She told me that she had been born in Romania, but that her parents had brought her here when she was 6. She told me how excited she was about going off to school, how she was going to major in psychology. I wondered if she might really wind up a profiler, reality somehow imitating art, this beautiful Romanian-American girl maturing into a kind of lanky Agent Scully, carefully examining blood sprays and multiple stab wounds, hunting down men with minds so broken that they've spilt from the program and decided to take it out on the world. Maybe she had profiled me, a flash judgement, that this was the guy to sit with, he's slightly off, could be interesting, old enough to be safe, young enough to pose a credible risk. It was all blended together, the age difference, the flirting, the excitement, the attraction, the hitting it off being right and everything else being wrong wrong wrong. All of that blending in with the passionate dispassionate discussion of someone shooting their three children in the back of head and carefully laying them out in sleeping bags, but saving 15 blows with a claw hammer for their wife's face. Shooting the kids one at a time as they came home from school and soccer practice, mixing themselves a drink, and then smashing their wife's face into a mangled concavity. Talking this over with a girl thirteen years your junior and wondering how in the hell you let things get this far and then having the honesty to tell yourself that you didn't mind things getting this far at all, that the angel on your right shoulder said that maybe you should lower your voice because that lady with the dyejob is giving you the bad eye, but the devil whispering sweet nothings in your left ear is telling yourself to get real cowboy, this chica is digging you like a ditch, that it's an all-she-can-eat serial killer buffet, and you're just spooning it out and she's shoveling it down, beaming you with those electric baby blues that you shouldn't even be looking at, Brother!

Suddenly, it seemed so simple. Maybe the payoff for me was how easy it was. That 17 year old Igloo could have never kept his stammer under control, that the words would have bubbled out so quickly and emphatically that the conversation would have self-terminated. That it was about pacing, carefully playing out the line. Admit it to yourself, Chief, you think 31 year-old Igloo is pretty cool. 31 year-old Igloo is pretty full of himself, filled out from weights and running and biking, no more acne, an accomplished conversationalist. That this is the thing you never could have done at 17, get your weirdness working for you, charming the socks off this wonderful gal, and being charmed in return without crapping your britches. That it was easy, like riding a bike. And I suddenly knew why some guys like the jailbait, the ease of tuning in on that uncut girlpower, that carrier wave of freshly energized feminine force coming in five by five. That the sensation was so gratifying these older men were willing to ignore the it-only-happens -once sanctity of these girls development into adults, ignore their own self-respect, and grab at that live wire to feel the current flow.

And that was when all my moral quandaries and tension dissipated. Ms. Stanfordina Pigtails, Profiler-in-training, was a gift, a mitzvah. When it no longer mattered, when most-nearly-all of my teenage traumas and hang-ups were exorcised, when I was happy with a great woman of my own and living my dream of being a writer, of being an explorer on the alien planetscape of los angeles, I was given one last chance to be cool with a teenage girl and feel that flow. And that is the trick - to make sure it is the one last time.

At the end of the flight, she asked me for some books to read on the subject and I rattled them off as she carefully wrote down each and every one. She told me that it had been a super flight, and that she had really enjoyed our talk. I told her the feeling was mutual, and she beamed me with a million candlepower smile. Maybe she would have been this way with anyone, but that smile...

So I'll close on my dream of the following night, vivid and Technicolor strong. I was naked in the water of the Willamette River, just upstream of the Sellwood bridge. It was a warm, late summer day, golden hour, bright yellow light infusing everything. The air was humid, overwarm, the water cold and turbid and blue. I could feel the gravel and slime underfoot, between my toes. Then there it was, an arm around my neck, squeezing off my windpipe. Hot on my back are high, firm breasts. My assailant's arm is long, sinewy with the strength of a dancer's - she's naked because I only feel skin slipping over skin. Legs wrap around me from behind, long legs hooking over my thighs, making me stumble and lose my footing. I reach back and grab on to her pigtails, fighting hard, desperately trying to pull her off my back and over my head. That's when the knife slides in, sliding up under my ribcage and into my right lung. The blade's passage burns, hotter than anything I've felt. The pain is terrible, real, and immediate. I can feel the cold water rushing into my lung as it deflates, the air sac peeling away from the pleural lining of my chest cavity. She is growing stronger while I grow weaker, her breasts pads of heat as she rides up my back and I stumble into the cold and darkness of the deeper waters.

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