Unaccompanied minor, p.11

Unaccompanied Minor, page 11

 

Unaccompanied Minor
 


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  I blushed as she fussed over me for a bit, then I introduced her to Malcolm.

  “It might be easier for you to use the lavs in the back,” she repeated to him, as the ones near where we stood were being blocked by the flight attendant activities.

  “Um, Malcolm needs to use this lavatory because it’s the only one with a diaper changing table,” I said, indicating Beefheart. This didn’t make much sense at all. Beefheart was not only not a baby, but he wasn’t wearing diapers, either, dirty or otherwise.

  Luckily flight attendants are a pretty accepting bunch. If, for whatever reason, this boy needed the special lavatory with a drop-down changing table for his emotional support animal, far be it for them to question it. Alby simply smiled brightly and told us they’d be out of our way shortly. Not everybody was on board with that, though.

  “Hey, I told you to put that dog away,” the imposter Brighton McPherson sneered at Malcolm. Luckily, there was another flight attendant in the galley who recognized the significance of Captain Beefheart’s green vest.

  “Hey, hey, hold on, Rambo,” she interjected, reaching out to pet Beefheart. “That’s an emotional support pet. He’s on the manifest, see?” She snapped the passenger manifest from a clip between the two elevator doors and showed it to him. “Emotional support pets are allowed outside their carriers.”

  “Oh,” said the imposter Brighton McPherson. “Well, I… I didn’t know.”

  “What do you mean, you didn’t know?” she scolded. Her badge revealed her name to be Ramona Thibodaux. She looked to be in her mid-forties with an explosion of dyed-black hair, fake breasts, and a body like a brick house. It occurred to me that she was the crew coordinator. I remembered from helping Flo and my mother prepare for their recurrent training that the flight attendant coordinator often came back to direct the mid galley on L-1011 aircrafts.

  “It’s right there in our manual,” she reminded the imposter Brighton McPherson. I was starting to love this woman.

  “Right, I know, I forgot,” he stammered, pulling the plastic sheet off a sleeve of Styrofoam cups before placing them next to the coffee server on top of the beverage cart.

  “Maybe if you’d made it to briefing today instead of barely getting here in time for boarding….”

  She griped at him some more, then directed her attention to Malcolm. “Okay, darling. You just do what you need to do.” She cupped Beefheart’s face in her hands. “Ooooh, isn’t he the cutest little itty bitty honey bunny butter bottoms in the whole wide world?” Then she covered Beefheart’s snuffly, gnarly, and decidedly un-honey butter bottoms face with kisses. It was official. I loved this woman.

  Beefheart wiggled his tail-stub and grunted adorably at Ramona’s attention. Malcolm made appreciative noises, as well, and soon the coach-class flight attendants had finished preparing their carts and been dispatched to their respective starting points along the aisles of the aircraft.

  The coast was clear, so I grabbed the passenger manifest from its clip and pressed the button to call one of the elevators. The two elevators on an L-1011 are little more than dumbwaiters, really. They’re only sixteen inches wide but as deep as a meal cart, so they can accommodate two people (or one cart) at a time. Once inside, the only way they can be operated is by flipping two toggle switches simultaneously. The switches are on either side of the interior, so it’s impossible to control it with just one hand. This design was intentional, as a “legacy” of earlier-model L-1011s revealed the propensity for injury when the design was different.

  “Ripped her arm clean off,” Flo had told me, though I’m sure it was an exaggeration.

  So now the toggle switches are located on either wall to ensure that both hands are being occupied inside the elevator when it’s in use. This can be overridden by the control panels on the outside, as the flight attendants need to be able to send the meal and beverage carts up and down. The elevators cannot operate at all, though, if either door isn’t closed securely.

  So, even though the elevators at the mid galley of an L-1011 are made for the tight transport of two people and single service carts, if you’re not shy, you can add in one wiggle-butted emotional support animal, if need be.

  “This is so totally awesome,” Malcolm said as we descended. “I can’t wait to tell my dad about this.”

  “Malcolm, you can’t tell anyone about this!”

  “Oh, right.”

  The elevator didn’t descend without warning, so when Malcolm and I, along with Captain Beefheart, made our way into the lower galley, Flo had already doused her cigarette and was screwing the cap back onto her thermos of Bloody Marys when she caught sight of us through the glass window of the elevator access door.

  “Oh, what the hell?” She rolled her eyes. “I just flushed a perfectly good cigarette, April. You were supposed to wait for me to come get you. What’s going on?”

  “Flo, let me explain….” I began as I stepped off the elevator, revealing Malcolm and Beefheart behind me.

  “Seriously, what the hell?” Flo groused. “This is all I need, Boy Wonder and his Underdog. My ass is gettin’ fired now. Say goodbye to free flight benefits and forty-six years of pension.” She shook her head, tapped another menthol from her pack, and lit it.

  “You can smoke down here?” Malcolm asked.

  “No,” Flo said, drawing deeply on her cigarette.

  We stood by the sink at the side of the elevators so Flo could exhale directly into the drain. I asked them to gather close so I wouldn’t have to raise my voice over the sound of the engines. As Malcolm suppressed his coughs through Flo’s smoke, I told them everything that had transpired over the past two and a half weeks—the kidnapping, Jalyce, the escape, the lock-up at the hospital, the escape, Kathy Landry, Old Cinderblock, Officer Ned, the escape, everything—including and up to a few minutes prior, when all the above parties, minus Jalyce but including Ash, had boarded the plane.

  When I finished they simply looked at me, as though their minds needed a moment or two to digest what I’d told them. Just as they opened their mouths to pelt me with a million questions, I remembered the imposter Brighton McPherson.

  “Oh, and there’s an imposter on the plane.” I pulled the pairing summary that listed the crew names from my backpack. I like to print them out in the crew lounge or the Flight Clubs before the flights if I can. “The male flight attendant, here, Brighton McPherson. That’s not him up there—” I pointed to the cabin above us. “—that’s an imposter. I met the real Brighton McPherson a week ago, and that guy up there is not him.”

  Flo blinked. Malcolm looked like he was still processing everything I’d told him. We all jumped out of our skins when the intercom, which was always set to the highest volume so it could be heard above the engines, buzzed into action: “Trash cart coming down!”

  “That’s him!” I whispered sharply, indicating the voice on the intercom. “That’s the imposter Brighton McPherson.”

  We jumped again when we heard the loud mechanical churning of the elevator as it made its descent. If there was indeed a cart in there, there would be no room for the imposter, but still Flo directed us to stand flush with the crew luggage shelves behind the jumpseat on the other side of the sink. This kept us from being seen from the vantage of the elevator door as the car made its descent.

  “It’s too early for them to send down trash carts,” I said. “They just started the service.”

  “I know,” Flo said, taking a last drag from her cigarette before dousing it in the sink. “Stay back here, and don’t come out unless I tell you.”

  She went to stand before the elevator door and out of our eyesight. “It’s a trash cart all right,” she called. I heard her open the elevator door and struggle to pull the cart off the stabling ballast on the elevator car floor. “This is a heavy sucker.”

  She finally succeeded in pulling it out of the elevator, and I heard her flip open its flat metal lid. “Oh, what the hell?”

  “What is it?” I jumped out
from around the corner, Malcolm and Beefheart at my heels.

  “Kids, didn’t I tell you to stay back there?” She sounded more concerned than annoyed.

  Malcolm obliged politely and returned to his spot, but I continued forward and peered down at the opening on the trash cart lid, then jumped back in alarm.

  The opening on the lid didn’t provide the greatest view, but it was enough. What I saw was a man’s face peering up at me from between his own naked knees. He had been shoved in on his back through the front of the cart, his legs bundled into a fetal position above him. His eyes were open and bulging, his tongue dark and protruding, his lips frozen in a horrific grin of death.

  “That’s him, Flo!” I gasped, tears welling in my eyes.

  “Who?”

  “That’s the real Brighton McPherson!”

  CHAPTER 8

  “What’s that around his neck?” Flo asked.

  “It’s a garrote,” I answered, recognizing the handles at each end of the wire that was still knotted tightly around the dead man’s throat. It was either a convenient or a sad fact that my mother’s and Grammy Mae’s addiction to true-crime television had prepared me with this knowledge.

  The terror barely had time to register in either of us before the loud mechanical churning began, indicating one of the elevators was in action again. I scurried back to stand beside Malcolm, who gave me a look that silently begged for an update on recent developments. I cupped one hand over my mouth and the other over his, then put my palms together in a praying position to try and impart the importance of staying silent right then. He understood. Beefheart, as ever and thank God, rested in his arms, as calm as a monk.

  I heard Flo flip the lid of the trash cart closed just as the elevator engine stopped and its door opened.

  “I need you to stand over here,” the voice said. He was no longer trying to fake a Southern accent, but I could tell it was the imposter Brighton McPherson.

  “Scooter,” Flo said (she called all men who were thin and well-groomed Scooter), “I need you to shove this trash cart straight up your puckered poo hole.”

  I could feel my senses heighten, remembering another list my mother had given me that I kept tucked in my flight attendant manual:

  Mom’s List of Five Great Make-Do Weapons on an Aircraft

  Another passenger’s aluminum crutch or cane. Two presumed hijackers were beaten to death with one of these on a Chinese flight last year.

  The red Halon fire extinguisher. There is always at least one of these on board, usually mounted on the bulkhead behind the last row of seats in each cabin. It’s heavy and metal and can drop you like a mofo if you’re hit with it.

  The H2O fire extinguisher. There is also always at least one of these on board, too, right next to the red one. It’s smaller, but even heavier because it’s filled with water instead of Halon gas.

  The liquor kit. All those booze minis come in a long metal sleeve that slides in and out of the beverage cart. Yank that out and swing it around hard enough and heads will (probably) literally roll.

  Can of soda. These suckers are heavy, and if you throw one hard enough it can be like a big, slow bullet to someone’s head.

  I had just unclipped the H2O fire extinguisher from its bracket by the jumpseat when I heard the imposter yell to Flo, “Do as I say, old lady!”

  I jumped out just as the man jumped over the cart, which Flo had positioned as a block between her and the elevator, and caught her neck in another of his garrotes. Without hesitation, I clouted him across the back of the head with the thin metal tank as hard as I could.

  “What the… ouch!” He clutched his head and turned to face me.

  Surprisingly, the blow didn’t knock him out, but at least he dropped his grip on the handles of the garrote. This freed Flo to pull it from her neck and gasp air into her lungs. By then the imposter had turned his attention to me. I swung the extinguisher into his gut battering ram–style, but the only purpose it seemed to serve was to make him more furious, if that was possible.

  The look on his face pierced a million little icicles of fear into my heart. His teeth were bared like a hyena, his eyes monstrous in their anger. I tried to hit him with my weapon again, but he was too close; in fact he was coming at me with the force of a freight train.

  “April, duck!” I heard Flo call out.

  I covered my head with my arms and dropped to the floor just as I heard a curious popping sound. The imposter hit the ground in front of me like a sack of wet cement. His arms grazed mine as he fell.

  For a moment everything was silent but for the roaring of the engines, then I stood up and assessed the condition of the assailant. His head was bleeding, and he was not moving. I backed away and looked at Flo with confusion.

  “What did you hit him with?” I asked.

  “A bullet,” she said. “That’ll be the last time that bastard ever calls me ‘old lady.’”

  CHAPTER 9

  “Flo! What are you doing with a gun?” I exclaimed. She placed the gun on the counter and sifted through her carry-on bag, which, judging by how most of the contents were strewn at her feet, must have been where she normally kept it.

  “I always carry one.” She found the lighter she was looking for and lit another cigarette. The quaking of the flame echoed the shaking of her hands.

  “You can’t bring a gun on an aircraft!”

  “Says who?”

  “Says security!”

  “I don’t carry it through security,” she said.

  “Wait… what?”

  “We’re picked up at the employee parking lot and brought straight to the crew lounge under the concourse. I can bring anything on board I want.” Her shaking had subsided, and I gave her a big hug.

  It was starting to make sense. Flo worked high-time turnarounds, like this one to LAX and back. Her “layover” consisted of fifty minutes at the gate. She never left the plane, let alone went outside security. She can bring anything on board she wants.

  Malcolm finally made a sound. “What about decompression?”

  “What?” Flo and I asked at the same time.

  “The bullet could have ricocheted and caused an explosive decompression? Like what happened on that Aloha Airlines flight in the late eighties,” Malcolm recited, “when a crack in the fuselage caused the front end of the plane to rip open midflight and suck out a flight attendant right along with her beverage cart.”

  I shook my head. “That was due to the age of the aircraft and stress in the construction, not a bullet hole,” I countered. “Didn’t you see Mythbusters? They tested the bullet-hole theory and found that any extra internal pressure caused by a bullet through the fuselage still wouldn’t be enough to cause an explosive decompression.”

  “Even at cruising altitude?”

  “Yeah, I know, right? I was surprised, too.”

  “All right, Einsteins,” Flo interjected, “this is a .22, it’s not gonna go through any walls. The shot wasn’t even loud enough to be heard over the engines. The bullet didn’t even exit the back of that guy’s head.” She pointed, and we all turned our heads to silently look at the disheveled and dead imposter on the floor.

  We jumped when the intercom screeched to life. “Flo, can you send up a few bags of ice and some milk, please?” The voice belonged to Ramona.

  Flo grabbed a half dozen small cartons of milk from one of the reach-ins, I grabbed two large bags of ice from the freezer, and we both tossed them in the elevator and pushed the up button.

  “Coming right up.” Flo spoke into the handset as pleasantly as possible, considering the circumstances. Then she turned back to me and Malcolm.

  I furrowed my brow in thought. “Flo, I remember Ramona saying the imposter didn’t make it to briefing, right?”

  “Right. We had a message on our sign-in screens informing us the pre-flight briefing would be held on the aircraft instead of one of the briefing rooms in the lounge,” she answered.

  “Well, it looks like the
real Brighton McPherson actually did make it to briefing, but then got intercepted,” I said.

  “I’m calling the pilot,” Flo insisted, lifting the handset.

  I halted her by placing my hand on her arm and pointing to the manifest I’d brought with me down from the mid galley. At the top of the sheet, someone (presumably Ramona, the coordinator) had inked in the three names of the pilots on duty in the cockpit—as well as a fourth name, the name of the off-duty pilot riding jumpseat in there with them.

  That name was Ash Manning.

  Flo replaced the handset in its cradle, took her packet of cigarettes out, and lit another one. “What’s your suggestion?” she asked.

  “Well, we don’t know if this guy is the only imposter on the crew,” Malcolm offered.

  I looked at him. Impressive, I thought. “Right! Flo, were there any other flight attendants on the crew that you didn’t know or recognize?”

  Flo exhaled her smoke dejectedly. “Kid, you know how it is. It’s not like it used to be when we all knew each other. There are fifteen thousand flight attendants at World­Air now, and with trip drops, swaps, and jetway trades, we never know who we’re flying with anymore. That’s part of the beauty of this job. And it’s the reason you’ve been able to stay on the run for the past few weeks.”

  “Can you confirm the identity of anyone on your cabin crew?” I asked.

  “I just drank a thermos of Bloody Marys! I barely recognize you!”

  “Oh, that’s comforting. You just fired a gun in my direction!”

  “You should count your lucky stars, normally I’m a terrible shot.”

  “Excuse me,” Malcolm interrupted. “I think I have an idea.”

  We turned to him expectantly.

  “Isn’t that the stowage area for the crew bags?” he asked, pointing to the shelves on the other side of the sink where he and I had hidden earlier. Black regulation suitcases were stacked one on top of the other on the shelves, secured with a sheet of thick plastic webbing across the alcove to keep them in place.

 
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