On her own during a California holiday, Liz Austen is plunged into the middle of an international plot when a boy named Ramon disappears from his room at the Disneyland Hotel. Has Ramon been taken hostage? Before Liz can answer that question, her own safety is threatened when terrorists strike at the most unlikely possible target: Disneyland itself.
"He recreates in rich detail the wonders of Disneyland. . . The plot moves quickly to an unpredictable climax, taking clever twists along the way"
Quill & Quire
Have you ever been in a plane that's about to crash?
Pulling my seat belt tighter, I read the airline's safety instructions one more time. Then I wiped my sweating palms and looked out the window at the people standing around, totally relaxed.
The plane hadn't even left the ground, and I was already prepared to meet my doom.
The woman in the next seat squeezed my hand. "Just relax, Liz. Don't you love the colour scheme inside this plane?"
That's my Aunt Melody for you. Always seeing the good side while others look for the grim angles. Like the notice that said USE SEAT CUSHION FOR FLOTATION.
"You know what that means, Aunt Melody? When the plane crashes in the Pacific, we'll have to swim for shore holding the seat cushion. I bet old Jaws is already sharpening his teeth, waiting for us to drop in for dinner."
Aunt Melody laughed. "We won't be flying over the Pacific, Liz."
"Sure we will, when they have to dump the fuel before our emergency landing."
"Calm down, Liz. You've flown before."
"I know, but I still hate it. Why can't we get off this death trap and take the train?"
"After what happened to Tom on The Canadian, I'm surprised you think trains aren't dangerous."
There's no way I can win an argument with her, so I just sat back and listened to the sweat splash from my forehead. Beside me, Aunt Melody calmly returned to reading Variety, which is the bible of people in show biz. Not that she's a star, or even on the tube, but she does sing with an opera company in Minneapolis. She'll never be a Big Name, she says, but using her voice makes her really happy and I think that's great.
After inviting me to Minneapolis to visit her and see a performance, she was now treating me to a holiday at Disneyland. The thought of being in California had been giving me goosebumps, I was so excited, but at the moment I could only think of surviving Flight 101 from Minneapolis to Los Angeles.
Suddenly, it began.
There was a dull thump as the big door swung closed, followed by a terrible whistling roar as the engines revved up. I'm too young to die! I kept thinking.
The flight attendants enjoyed some kind of sick joke by demonstrating the use of emergency oxygen masks, then the plane was hurtling down the runway. With an amazing thrust of power we angled straight up into the sky, and for a minute I thought the other passengers would come tumbling back toward me. But after a few heart-pounding minutes the plane levelled off.
"Thank goodness that's over!" I exclaimed.
"That's right. Now there's only the landing left."
"Thanks a lot. I'd completely forgotten."
Way below I could see tiny farm houses and the sparkle of miniature lakes and toy cars on a six-lane sliver of road. As I stared at them a hand touched my arm.
I turned and looked up at a perfect man, a vision of golden hair and deep blue eyes. It took me a few seconds to realize he was speaking to me.
"Pardon?" I stammered. "What did you say?"
"Aren't you Lisa Hewitt, from Richmond?"
"No," I admitted, wishing desperately that I was. "My name is Liz Austen, and I'm from Winnipeg." He looked puzzled, and I added stupidly, "That's in Canada."
"Yes, I know." He shook his golden head. "The next time I see Lisa, I'll tell her she's got a double! You've got the same pretty dark hair and eyes."
He was turning away when Aunt Melody saved the day. "Won't you sit down?" she said, glancing at the empty seat beside her. "We'd enjoy talking to you."
The Vision settled down, and I had a chance to look him over more carefully. There were a couple of tiny scars near his right eye, but nobody's perfect, and I couldn't believe our luck. I was trying to think of a good conversational opening when Aunt Melody jumped right in.
"I don't believe we've had the honour...?"
"What?" the Vision said.
"We haven't been introduced. My name is Melody Symons."
"And I'm Kingsley Fortune. I can tell you're from Canada, Ms. Symons, because you've got such a nice turn of phrase."
"Why, thank you. Please call me Melody."
"Call me Liz," I added. "Have..."
But Aunt Melody cut me off with her own question, and I was left with my jaw flapping. It took me a few moments to stop seeing green, but then I admitted to myself that Kingsley was perhaps a shade too old for me. And if Aunt Melody could somehow make an impression, then maybe we'd see something of him in Los Angeles. What a thought!
Trying to give Aunt Melody some help, I broke into their conversation. "My aunt's been all over the world, Kingsley, and now she's an opera star."
He looked pretty impressed, but Aunt Melody raised her hand. "Not a star at all. Just one of the toilers in the trenches."
Kingsley laughed. "I'll bet you're a beautiful singer."
"Oh, she is! You should get her address in Minneapolis and arrange to go to a performance." I was about to suggest dinner after the show when Aunt Melody gave me a dirty look.
"Why don't you read your book, Elizabeth?" She only uses my full name when she's furious. "I'm sure Mr. Fortune doesn't need your help organizing his life."
The Vision smiled at Aunt Melody. "Please, call me Kingsley."
I could swear I heard the fluttering of her gorgeous eyelashes as they fell into conversation. I did a quick study of Aunt Melody, and found everything in perfect order. The huge dark eyes, just the right touch of make-up, a white silk blouse combined with forest-green slacks, and a couple of silver bracelets -she looked like a model.
A flight attendant came around with free soft drinks and some peanuts. "We'll be serving dinner soon," she said, and right away I heard the tension in her voice.
Her smile was so forced it was lopsided. "Everything's fine. Why do you ask?"
"You sound tense. Is something wrong with the plane?"
She studied my eyes, and was just about to speak when Aunt Melody cut in. "Pay no attention to my niece. Flying makes her nervous."
The attendant nodded and walked away. I pretended to be opening the package of peanuts, but I saw her whisper to another attendant who looked my way. Something was wrong for sure, but what could I do? I couldn't get off at the next stop, and I didn't think I could face a parachute even if my life depended on it. Which it did. Now I was really sweating, and I quickly got out the key ring my brother Tom gave me. It features both a rabbit's foot and a four-leaf clover.
Kingsley's deep voice interrupted my grim thoughts. "Look at that key ring! I guess you're a superstitious girl, Liz."
"Who, me? No way."
Aunt Melody laughed. "Come on, Liz. Tell the truth."
"Okay, I confess that flying terrifies me. What if there's a bomb in someone's luggage, ticking towards zero hour? What if a bolt on one of those jet engines works loose? In a few minutes the engine might fall off, and then we'll plunge to earth, spinning and twisting, our mouths screaming . . ."
"Stop!" Kingsley said with a laugh. "Now you've got me terrified. You'd better give that rabbit's foot another stroke."
Aunt Melody smiled at him. "Don't encourage her, Kingsley."
"Well, I confess I'm a bit that way myself. That's probably why I noticed that the crew had carefully crossed the seat belts before we came on board, so we may get to L.A. safely."
"I've never heard that superstition before. Got any more?"
"Macbeth is considered the unluckiest play by actors, because of the Witches' Song, and we always say 'break a leg' to each other on opening night. We never say 'good luck,' even though that's what we mean."
"You're an actor?" I asked.
He smiled, and dimples appeared on his cheeks. "That's right."
"Are you a star?"
His smile turned into a wonderful laugh. "You could say so."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I've just been on location near Minneapolis with the film director Lomas Shaw. I'm sure you've heard of him?"
I hadn't, but I made a gesture that could have been yes or no. Kingsley didn't seem to notice.
"The film's going to be very big, and my agent has several more deals brewing in Hollywood. That's why I'm rushing back to L.A."
"Have you always been an actor?"
"All my life. It's the only work for me."
I studied Kingsley's blue eyes, and his skin that really was "bronzed" from the California sun. I was dying to ask for an autograph but Aunt Melody would have called that gauche. As I checked his hand to make sure he wasn't wearing a wedding ring, I noticed that he had thick callouses, the kind people get from tough labouring. Kingsley saw me staring and stood up.
"Excuse me," he said, and walked away.
I leaned close to Aunt Melody. "Are you making progress?"
"Did you notice his hands?"
"Yes. I wonder how an actor gets those kinds of callouses. Kingsley may not be what he claims."
A man of mystery! For a moment I wondered if I could figure out Kingsley's secret, then my good mood collapsed. "If he isn't really an actor in LA, we may never see him again!"
Aunt Melody laughed. "Would that be a tragedy?"
"He's nice," I said mournfully. "I wouldn't mind hanging around Hollywood with someone as gorgeous as Kingsley. Let's pretend his hands aren't a mystery."
Speaking of hands, the flight attendant had a real tremble in hers as she gave me a tray of food. Something was definitely wrong with the plane, but what could I do? I unwrapped the cutlery from a paper napkin and studied the tray.
The whole meal was in front of me, including two desserts: fudge and cookies. I ate a couple of cookies, then gobbled a black olive from a watery-looking salad. The beef was only okay, so I decided to finish off the cookies and fudge.
The plane angled, and I looked out at the sunshine. Then it angled further and I was in the shade of the wing with rays of yellow light splashing past on both sides. At this peaceful moment, the pilot came on with a terrible announcement.
"We have a problem in our hydraulic gear," she said, and then paused, knowing the passengers would start babbling. That's exactly what happened. One guy was even swearing, but a flight attendant got him calmed down. Meanwhile I just grabbed Aunt Melody's hand and squeezed my rabbit's foot as tightly as I could. My heart was pounding something awful.
"Please don't be upset," the pilot went on. "We have lowered the plane's wheels manually, but there is a chance that the wheels will collapse when we land at Los Angeles. We have radioed ahead for emergency vehicles to be standing by, and we will be announcing precautions to take for your own safety."
She switched off, and the babbling turned into an uproar. As the flight attendants tried desperately to settle people down, I stared out at the orange light of a spectacular sunset. The sun is dying, I thought, and something clenched in my stomach.
Aunt Melody patted the back of my hand and I managed a feeble smile. "I guess I was right."
"What about, Liz?"
"When I said the attendant was tense. She already knew about the hydraulic gear."
"You're probably right. I suppose they had to act normally and serve us our dinners until the pilot made her announcement close to the end."
"The end." I couldn't smile anymore. "Oh, Aunt Melody, I'm scared."
"So am I, dear."
Kingsley sat down beside her. The shock of the pilot's announcement had drained most of the colour from his face, and he looked ghastly. "How are you doing?"
"Just fine, Kingsley. And you?"
"Couldn't be better! This airline is the best in the States. They'll get us down safely."
The attendant came out of nowhere to collect our dinner trays, and I saw that her hands weren't shaking anymore. Maybe she'd only been afraid of leaking the awful news to the passengers. She even gave me a smile, and somehow that really raised my spirits.
"Pardon me," Aunt Melody said to her. "Why didn't we land earlier, instead of flying on to Los Angeles?"
"There are more ambulances available there."
What can you say to a line like that? I didn't want to believe this was happening to me, so I managed to make myself think about all the Disneyland attractions for quite a long time, maybe as long as eight seconds.
"I was right about a disaster," I said to Kingsley. "The engine didn't fall off, but this is just as bad."
He gave me a feeble smile. "Nonsense, Liz. In a few minutes we'll land at Los Angeles, and it will all be over."
"All over is right. You know what'll happen the moment we land? As the wheels touch the runway, they'll collapse. The plane will skid along on its belly, with sparks flying in every direction. Then the fuel tanks will rip open, the fuel will ignite, and there'll be a massive explosion. One minute a plane, the next minute a fireball! There won't be anything left of us, Kingsley! We've had it, we're finished! Say goodbye to life!"
Suddenly I noticed that heads were turning in my direction and people close by were crying. Realizing I'd gotten a bit carried away, I tried to smile. "Don't listen to me, folks. I'm only a kid."
"Not just any kid," Aunt Melody said. "When it comes to flying, you're a totally paranoid kid. And I guess this experience isn't going to improve things."
The pilot's voice came over the speakers. "We're approaching Los Angeles Airport. The attendants are now handing out small brown bags. Please put your jewellery and all sharp objects into a bag and label it with your name."
Where did the bags come from, I wondered. Did every plane carry them in case of a crash? These morbid thoughts ran through my mind as I looked at a thin line of red stretching across the horizon. High above was a pale quarter-moon just coming to life, and below was nothing but darkness.
The attendant handed each of us a pillow. "Put this in your lap. A minute before we land, the pilot will ask everyone to assume the emergency position."
"Hands clasped behind your head and your face in the pillow until the plane has come to a full stop.”
We’re going to make it safely, I told myself, and I don’t want to feel ashamed when it’s over. Did I ever intend to enjoy Disneyland!
“Good luck,” the attendant said. “There’s no need to worry.”
“Well,” Aunt Melody said, “at least we’re all in this together. Literally.”
The attendant laughed. “You’re right! I’ll pass that on to the Captain.”
Outside the window, the sky changed suddenly to night as we dropped toward Los Angeles. The city streets were shining with neon, and they seemed to go on forever. I glimpsed a massive freeway, at least twenty lanes, then the plane swept into a curve and I looked across dusky houses and bright streets to the blood-red sea.
Were people down there watching us? We were probably on TV, all the cameras angling up to catch the drama as our wheels came down closer and closer to the runway. What would happen then?
A neon sign was flashing in time with my heart, then it went blurry as my eyes started leaking. We were really low now, and there was a sudden roar from the engines as the plane dipped forward.
“Assume your emergency positions!” the pilot announced.
I buried my head in the pillow, then looked up. “I love you, Aunt Melody,” I sobbed.
She smiled. “I love you, too, Liz. We’re going to be fine.”
I tried to say something more, but then the plane dropped straight down. I grabbed the back of my head and jammed my face into the pillow.
There was a loud thump as the wheels hit the runway, followed immediately by the tremendous roar of the afterburners slowing the engines. I held my breath and prayed and prayed, waiting for the terrible screech of collapsing metal, but nothing like that happened. Instead there was a moment of silence inside the plane, followed by hysterical cheering and laughter and applause.
I looked up and saw two people in the aisle hugging each other. Then I got into the act, wrapping my arms around Aunt Melody and squeezing her so tightly that I thought she'd pop. After that I remembered Kingsley, and realized this was a golden opportunity to put my arms around him. But when I looked his way I got a real shock.
Kingsley had fainted.
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Back to the list of Eric's books Back to Eric's Home Page DISNEYLAND HOSTAGE.Copyright 2012 by Eric Hamilton WilsonAll rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced inany manner whatsoever without prior written permission except in thecase of brief quotations embodied in reviews.