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Red River Ransom
From a movie shoot at his Winnipeg school to the booming surf of California, Tom Austen meets strange and sometimes dangerous Hollywood people. Loads of action and suspense!

Chapter 1


         “Here it comes,” cried Tom Austen.


         Gliding down on silvery wings, the sleek executive jet approached Winnipeg International Airport. It was a bitterly cold night in January, but that didn’t bother Tom. Born in Winnipeg thirteen years ago, he knew how to dress for winter’s worst.


         Tom stood beside his father, Inspector Edward “Ted” Austen of the Winnipeg City Police, watching the jet’s smooth descent. The plane’s running lights gleamed in the darkness as it lightly touched down. Tom was excited because inside the executive jet was one of Hollywood’s biggest names, Johnny Lombardo. The young star was arriving in Winnipeg to film scenes for his latest movie, Kid Gangster. Some Manitoba locations would stand in for Chicago, where most of the movie had just been shot.


         Security was tight. Johnny’s arrival time was a closely guarded secret. From the jet, he’d be driven by limousine straight to his headquarters for the Winnipeg shoot. The location was unknown, but much discussed.


         Johnny Lombardo was only thirteen but he commanded top dollar. Everyone knew about his yacht, and the mansion he shared with his father overlooking California’s blue Pacific.


         “This is so awesome,” Tom said. “Imagine seeing a major star in person!”


         Inspector Austen smiled. “I’m impressed that Johnny Lombardo is one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. At his age—that’s hard to believe!”


         Two people stood nearby. They were government officials representing Customs and Immigration. One had silver hair. He wore a parka with the hood down. “There have always been kid stars,” he said. “Who was that girl, long ago? Shirley Dimple, or something like that?”


         The Immigration official beside him shook her head. “Shirley Temple,” she said, laughing.


         The good-natured man chuckled at his error. “You know,” he said thoughtfully, “I feel sorry for Johnny Lombardo. Sure, he’s rich and famous, but there’s a downside. I bet people are always wanting things. His autograph, his money.”


         Once again, Inspector Austen checked his watch. “As you know, three security guards are travelling with Johnny Lombardo.”


         Stamping their feet against the cold, they all watched with interest the approach of the dramatic-looking executive jet with its silver nose. Engines whining, the impressive aircraft rolled to a stop. As the pilot shut down the systems, a boy looked out a window. He had curly black hair and large dark eyes.


         “Dad,” Tom exclaimed, as the boy disappeared from view. “That’s him. That’s Johnny Lombardo!”


         “Yes, indeed,” Inspector Austen commented. “I’d know that face anywhere.”


         Tom shook his head in amazement. “I just saw Johnny Lombardo in person! Liz will be so jealous. So will Mom! Too bad they’ve gone to that tournament in South Dakota. They’ve missed the chance of a lifetime.”


         A black stretch limousine was powering toward them. “Hey, Dad, check out the fancy limo.”


         “It’s here for Johnny. Other limousines are coming for his people.”


         “Say, Dad, where’s he staying? Dietmar claims they’ve rented the entire Hotel Fort Garry.”


         Inspector Austen smiled, but said nothing.


         “Can’t you just tell me? Please!”


         “We’ve been though all this, Tom. I’m sorry, but I’m not allowed. If the Mayor found out, I’d lose my job.”


         The door of the jet opened soundlessly and the Customs and Immigration officials boarded. Soon after, they came back down the stairs and drove away in a government car.


         Then three tough-looking people left the jet. “Look at them,” Tom whispered to his dad. “It’s so obvious they’re bodyguards.”


         The trio—a woman and two men—were dressed in black trench coats and wearing sunglasses, despite the late hour. The bodyguards swiftly scoped out the scene. Looking satisfied, the woman spoke into her cuff. Immediately, Johnny Lombardo ran swiftly from the plane to the waiting limousine. As the chauffeur opened the door, he touched his cap to Johnny. The bodyguards immediately surrounded the vehicle, assuming aggressive stances.


         “Wait here, son,” Inspector Austen said, “while I talk to them.”


         As Tom’s father walked toward the guards, a woman and a man left the jet. She was about thirty, and most beautiful. Her sleek blond hair was cut short, curling close to her lovely face. Diamonds winked at her ears. She wore an expensive-looking blue parka with the words “Kid Gangster” stitched in white.


         The woman’s large brown eyes looked around alertly. “Brrr,” she commented to the man. “This wind is colder than Chicago. I heard about the corner of Portage and Main in downtown Winnipeg. It’s supposed to be the coldest place on earth, or something like that!” Her laugh was as pleasing as the sound of silver bells.


         Seeing Tom, the man waved him over. He also wore a blue parka, open to the cold. He was about twenty-five, with large hazel eyes. His thick dark hair was razor-cut in a bi-level style that looked extremely high-maintenance. The man seemed very Hollywood, with his dark suntan and a heavy silver chain around his neck. He wore new jeans that looked expensive, shiny cowboy boots, and several large silver rings.


         “I’m Zack Sanderson,” he said. “I’m the producer of Kid Gangster.” He glanced around the scene. “How’d you penetrate the security, kid?”


         Inspector Austen spoke from behind Zack. “I can answer that. Tom is my son. I’m Inspector Austen of the Winnipeg City Police. I’m your local contact for police security during Johnny Lombardo’s visit.”


         They shook hands. “Good to meet ya,” Zack said.


         The woman smiled at Tom and his dad. “I’m Johnny’s manager, Sally Virtue.” Her voice had a British accent.


         “I love Johnny’s movies,” Tom said.


         “I’m glad you’re a fan, Tom. Would you care to meet him?”


         “I’ll say,” he replied. “Thanks, Sally!”


         Leaving Inspector Austen talking with Zack, they walked to the limo. Sally tapped on the window. “Johnny,” she called, “there’s a fan out here. Open up. Say hello.”


         The smoky glass powered down. A handsome boy smiled at them.


         “This is Tom Austen,” Sally explained. “His father’s in charge of local security.”


         The boys shook hands. The same age and size, they were both handsome. Tom was a redhead, and Johnny had dark colouring. He had the well-groomed look of a young star and seemed very confident. “I like Canada,” Johnny said. “It’s a cool country.”


         “As well as a cold one,” Tom quipped, making Johnny laugh.


         “I’ve been on shoots up here before,” he said. “Great crews, great talent.”


         “It’s incredible to meet you, Johnny. Your movies are the best.”


         The star’s smile was warm. His face was so famous. It was amazing for Tom to actually meet Johnny Lombardo!


         “Hey, Tom,” he said, “you should visit the set. Watch me shoot a scene or two. Meet some movie people.”


         Tom could hardly believe his ears. “That’s an awesome idea,” he enthused.


         Sally nodded her agreement. “I’ll make the arrangements with Inspector Austen. I think he’s scheduled to visit the set tomorrow morning. I’ll suggest that Tom come along.”


         “I’ve got an idea,” Tom said suddenly. “How about coming to my place, Johnny? Meet my friends, maybe play some snow football.”


         “That sounds great.” Johnny looked hopefully at Sally. “Sunday’s my day off. Okay if I visit Tom?”


         “Not a chance, Johnny. Too many security concerns.”


         “But,” Tom protested, “my dad will be there. He’s in charge of local police security! It’s the safest place Johnny could be.”


         Sally squeezed Tom’s hand. “Oh, Tom, we’d love to visit. But it’s just not possible. I know you’ll understand.” She climbed into the limo next to Johnny.


         As the luxury vehicle glided away, Sally waved a pleasant farewell. Tom returned the wave, looking forward to seeing her again.


*   *   *


         Back at the executive jet, Zack Sanderson was telling Inspector Austen about his lifestyle when Tom joined them. “Riding in that jet is a thrill, Inspector. Imagine travelling forty-five thousand feet above the earth’s surface, eating a gourmet meal and watching the rushes from your latest flick. Meanwhile the other suckers are travelling on commercial flights, with all that airport security hassle.”


         “Is this your personal jet?” Tom asked.


         “Nope. It belongs to Polygon Studios.” Zack stared into the empty night. “No sign of my limo. Just my luck.” He turned to Tom and his dad. “Come on. I’ll show you inside.”


         The aircraft contained six leather chairs. The deep-pile carpeting was pale blue. The ceiling was high. They were able to stand up comfortably inside. Displayed on the bulkhead was the logo for Polygon Studios—an empty parrot cage.


         On a cherrywood coffee table was a silver plate containing chocolate-dipped strawberries, beaded with moisture. Tom’s mouth watered at the sight. Zack passed him the plate, and Tom bit in greedily.


         Zack introduced the pilot, a man in his thirties. His name was Ebenezer Smith. Ebenezer sat in a lightweight wheelchair—both of his legs ended above the knee. His head was bald; his body had the bulk of a weightlifter.


         “I’m from England,” Ebenezer said, shaking hands. His grip was powerful. He smiled at Tom. “Been wondering how a double-amputee can fly a jet?”


         “Well, yes, actually.”


         Ebenezer gestured at the cockpit, visible beyond a low divider. “The controls have been modified for my use.”


         “How do you board the jet?” Tom asked.


         “Using a hydraulic lift,” Ebenezer replied. “After losing my legs I learned to fly executive jets. A woman who learned with me later moved to Hollywood. Recently she got connected to Polygon Studios. They needed a pilot, and she remembered me. I started two weeks ago. Polygon’s a good company to work for.”


         The big man smiled proudly. “This Falcon 900EX has all the latest gadgets. Computers, fax, satcom, digital datalinks. You name it, we’ve got it.”


         “What’s your flight range?” Inspector Austen asked.


         “Forty-five hundred nautical miles. Last week I flew this baby from Stockholm to Moscow without refuelling.”


         Tom glanced at Zack. The producer was slumped down on a leather sofa. A cellphone was pressed to his ear. “You want a meeting? Right away? But I’m busy. I’m producing a movie. Get real, man.”


         Zack listened to his phone. His face seemed to lose colour. He raised a hand slowly to his throat, looking shocked. “Don’t threaten me,” he said. “You can’t . . .”


         Zack stared at the phone. “He hung up.”


         “Who was it?” Tom asked.


         Zack ignored Tom’s query. He stared into space, then finally spoke.


         “They can’t do this,” he said to himself. “I won’t let it happen. They must be stopped.”

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This chapter may be photocopied for classroom use.

RED RIVER RANSOM. Copyright 2012 by Eric Hamilton Wilson
All rights reserved.  No part of this book may be used or reproduced in
any manner whatsoever without prior written permission except in the
case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.


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