Window seat view.
I take my seat in first class, and as if on cue, a bright, vivacious flight attendant appears in the aisle. “Can I get you something to drink, Mr. Epstein?”, she purrs to the man next to me, batting her eyes in such obvious way, that I have to stifle a laugh.
“How about a whiskey on the rocks?”, he coyly plays along, adding a quick wink, almost imperceptible unless you were watching closely.
She replies bashfully, “Of course, Mr. Epstein. It’s always a pleasure to have you flying with us.” She turns to me as if an afterthought, “Ma’am? Something to drink for you?”
“You know what? What the hell. Whiskey on the rocks sounds great. I’ll have what he’s having,” I beam my toothiest grin at her.
“Of course, I’ll be right back.”
I quickly glance at her name tag before I reply, “thank you, Delilah.”
I note that Delilah’s vibrancy seems to wane almost instantly when she engages with me. Perhaps Delilah is friendly with Epstein because she’s waited on him before, perhaps on many flights. A more probable reason is that the airline considers him a VIP and therefore always provides him with this level of attention and service. After all this time I’ve spent chasing Epstein, it wouldn’t surprise me if it came to light that the pilot or even the airline executives owed Epstein a favor or two, guaranteeing him exceptional service from the youngest, most doe-eyed flight attendants. After considering this for a moment, I’ve resolved that of course, there are likely many flight attendants that serve Epstein, all carbon copies of Delilah, all strikingly beautiful in that young, naïveté kind of way. I realize I’m unintentionally staring at the young woman’s backside as she walks away because I can feel Epstein glance at me and his ensuing gaze follow mine. I shudder internally as my face settles into a light scowl. Stealing a furtive glance at his expression, I can see that his eyes are now hungrily fixed on her hips in her pencil skirt, sashaying and bending to take orders from the rest of the first class elite.
“What a pleasant woman,” Epstein says as he turns to me, snapping me out of my trance. His cool, blue-grey eyes scan me up and down, assessing in that way that’s characteristic of sociopaths—somehow reserved while also feeling as if they’re boring holes through you. Despite all of the intel I have on him, I get why young women fall into his web. His aura of confidence and importance is so wholly unbreakable that even if every internal alarm bell were to cry out in protest, I can guarantee you’d question your ability to assess whether to trust this person, rather than why your body tells you that you shouldn’t.
I knew we were assigned seats next to each other on the flight back from France, but I’m still taken aback by how quickly he’s decided to talk to me. The years I’ve spent training for this moment evade me, as I find it nearly impossible to erase the smugness from my face. I give a thoughtful pause by clearing my throat, the same way you might pause to consider whether you really need that second cup of coffee when offered a refill at brunch. He might have thought I was considering whether perhaps this flight attendant really was pleasant or not, but it was merely so I could suppress the last decade of my work from my expression before I replied.
“Yes, this airline does tend to have the best flight attendants, in my opinion,” I warmly reply, making eye contact with him for the first time. Seeing my face from the front seems to spark something in him, his brows furrowing slightly.
“You look familiar. Have we met before?” He asks.
For a moment, I begin to internally panic, thinking I’ve gone and blown my whole cover. This is the last leg of this mission, and though it is nearly over, his recognizing me as the person who has been following him for the last 10 years could be a detriment to our case and therefore, would be catastrophic. In that moment, the realization that we’ve finally got him washes over me, calming me like the falling ocean tide. I’m reminded that my partner and the rest of our investigative team will be waiting at the gate to arrest him as soon as we touch down at the Teterboro airport.
“I just have one of those faces. I get that all of the time,” I shrug.
If his eyes were lasers, they’d have already burned through me. He must be skeptical of my response because he’s still sizing me up and down. Thankfully, the bouncy Delilah flits her way over, breaking his concentration.
“Here are your drinks! If there is anything that we can do to make your flight more enjoyable, please don’t hesitate to call me over.” Although this is directed at both of us, she’s staring at Epstein. When their eyes meet, I notice her cheeks redden slightly, and she lets out a soft giggle. I blink my eyes a couple times, so as to keep them from rolling into the back of my head. This interaction seems to have cut the tension between us because Epstein turns towards me and lifts his glass as if to cheers. I mimic his gesture and ask, “so what are we cheers-ing to then?”
He throws his head back in a carefree fashion and replies, “how about to a long, prosperous life, full of adventure?” The irony is not lost on me and because of this, I’m able to smile genuinely in return.
I nod my head slightly, lift my glass, and agree, “yes, to a long, prosperous life, full of adventure.” I clink my glass with his and take a sip of the brown liquor, its sweet, warmth sliding down my throat and spreading through my chest.
This interaction seems to satisfy Epstein’s curiosity about me because he doesn’t pry again. He continues to sip his whiskey and instead returns to his work on his laptop. Little does he know, he won’t need that anymore when this flight is over.
Although I’ve been following Epstein and investigating him for the last decade, this is the first time I’ve actually been up close to him. In the past, it was too risky. But now, the thrill of knowing he will be behind bars at the end of this flight leaves me intoxicated with the exhilaration. At the same time, there’s a strange bittersweet-ness about it all. It’s been a long, arduous process to catch him, and his case has been the one that has consumed me the most since I started working with the FBI. At the same time, I’ve found it to be somewhat interesting, even enjoyable at times, to be Epstein’s shadow, well, besides of course all of the child trafficking and sexual abuse. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to chase an enigma like Epstein for so long. To have finally succeeded in catching him feels like the biggest reward of all and yet, I am also anticipating the purposelessness that will come once he’s caught. How could any FBI mission ever top this one? In reality, they can’t.
The rest of the flight is without incidence, and despite my exhaustion, sleep evades me. I occasionally find myself staring at Epstein’s relaxed, sleeping face, and I wonder if he knows his entire life is about to change. He must have known this day was coming at some point, right? Although probably not, as all of the evidence I’ve collected against Epstein would suggest. He’s just that kind of man.
As the plane begins its final descent, my heart starts palpitating. I’ve been waiting for this day for so long, and I will finally see this man in handcuffs for the atrocities he’s committed. My emotions, a strong mixture of pride, excitement, anticipation, anxiety, overwhelm me as we taxi up to the gate.
The plane parks and Epstein immediately jumps out of his seat to grab his carry-on from the overhead compartment. I stay seated for a moment longer, saving this moment of suspension, while at the same time knowing that we’ll meet again on the other side of the gateway. This time I won’t be another passenger on the flight but his arresting officer.
“It was a pleasure to meet you, Jeff,” I say, peering up at him from my window seat.
Epstein looks at me perplexed, his mouth ever so slightly agape. Before he can get out of the aisle, the passengers behind him start pushing him towards the exit, hastily attempting to exit the plane. Even as he gives in to their pushing and begins moving, he turns back to look at me and calls out, “I didn’t get your name, but you too.”
I don’t even bother to yell back at him, as he’s already at the front of the plane, saying his goodbyes to the effervescent Delilah, whose adoration for Epstein is so eminent, I have to look away.
“You’ll know my name soon, Epstein. Real soon,” I whisper to myself, as I collect my bag and make my way off the plane.