Unaccompanied minor, p.15

Unaccompanied Minor, page 15


Unaccompanied Minor

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  “What’s happening?” Officer Ned asked, panicked himself.

  “When a decompression occurs on an aircraft, the vessel must immediately dive to an altitude below fourteen thousand feet,” Malcolm informed him, “which is an altitude that has oxygen dense enough for us to breathe without the need for compressed air.”

  “Quick, Malcolm, come with me. Officer Ned, you stay here with Beefheart, please.” The plane suddenly leveled out, but I knew we only had a few minutes until the autopilot corrected itself and began to climb again.

  The PA system crackled to life with Ramona’s voice. “Listen, passengers, you better stay seated with your—” she began, but then I reached back and yanked two more breakers from the avionics board. Sparks leapt from the panel.

  “What was that?” Malcolm asked as he followed me back into the galley.

  “I just blew the plane’s PA and interphone system,” I said.

  “You pulled two breakers just now.”

  “Yeah, I also shorted out all cockpit communication.”

  “Wow.” Malcolm whistled under his breath.

  We crawled back through the opening to the lower galley. I yanked the meal cart containing the body of the imposter Brighton McPherson out of the stowage sleeve (“It’s all in the leverage”) and rolled it near the small access door in the fuselage that the catering crew uses at the gate when they board supplies. The plane had just dipped below fourteen thousand feet; the cabin pressure automatically adjusted accordingly, I surmised, so this door should open.

  The imposter’s body was positioned in the meal cart so that when you opened the front flap all you saw was his back, where a tattoo of three tiny black birds trailed from the base of his neck into his collar. I uncapped the Sharpie marker and, across the back of his white regulation work shirt, I wrote, “World­Air flight 1021. We are being hijacked. Please don’t shoot us down! Call 404-828-8805.” Then I opened the exterior door.

  The rush of air was deafening, but since we were at an altitude of sustainable density, not much got sucked through the opening except some loose debris and a crew bag or two. Once opened, the door raised itself on tracks and stayed flush with the curve of the ceiling. Malcolm and I each held a handgrip on either side of the door frame with one hand, then reached back with the other to grasp the pull bar of the meal cart to draw it forward. I hadn’t meant to discard the cart along with the body, but once the momentum got started it was hard not to. The cart and body both tumbled out of the aircraft and separated in midair. The imposter Brighton McPherson somersaulted in one direction, while the cart went in the other.

  I froze for a second, praying no one would get hurt on the ground. The plane began to climb. Some more debris started to sweep out of the door, so Malcolm and I reached for the buttress grips at the foot of the door and began pulling down mightily to try to close it.

  Officer Ned stood unsteadily peering at us through the hole I’d created in the galley wall. Among the unsecured, lighter-weight items that were being blown across the galley floor and out the door was his black motorcycle boot.

  “The boot!” he squawked. “Get the boot!”

  Unfortunately Beefheart, highly trained and dedicated as he was, took this as an extension of his earlier command. He sprang forward from behind Officer Ned, ran across the galley, leapt through the air, sunk his teeth into the boot… and got sucked right out the door with it!

  “Beefheart!” Malcolm and I screamed in unison.

  Then I screamed even louder. I didn’t think I could scream so loud. In fact, I screamed so loud I’m pretty sure that not only the people in the cabin above heard me, but also people here on the ground. Because Malcolm—and this is still really hard for me to say—okay, Malcolm… wait, I need to take a sip of Gatorade… Malcolm, you see, without even a scintilla of hesitation, Malcolm let go of the door and dove out of the plane after Beefheart.

  It seriously seemed like the world stopped right then. Like, I remember once when I took a trip with my mother to an old gold-mining town in north Georgia called Dahlonega, and right there in the town square was a general store that sold moccasins and slingshots and penny candy and all kinds of other old-fashioned things, but the best part was that they had a whole row of those old-timey Nickelodeon viewers that show movies by flipping pictures on a giant Rolodex. I remember I could view the movie as fast or as slow as I wanted, and it always took me forever to complete the show, because I would stop each picture and examine it like a slide under a microscope.

  That’s what it was like in this case, when all the friends I had left in the world, all three, dove out of the airplane. It was like that Nickelodeon viewer—really, really, super slow. The scenes went by like flip… stop… flip… stop… flip… stop.

  Flip, there goes Captain Beefheart out the door after Officer Ned’s motorcycle boot.

  Flip, there goes Malcolm out the door after Captain Beefheart.

  Flip, there goes Officer Ned out the door after Malcolm!

  And then everything sped up again.


  Even with two bullets and three painkillers in him, it’s astounding how fast that Officer Ned could move. He shot out the door like a rocket and grabbed Malcolm by the waistband of his jeans, just as he was about to go sailing into the wild blue yonder. I could hear both of them bang against the exterior of the plane.

  As I said, the catering portal is not like a regular passenger door. It’s smaller and narrower, and Officer Ned had splayed his legs open so his bottom half stayed wedged inside the plane. I reached out and grabbed Officer Ned by his belt and tried to pull with all my might.


  Somehow, I don’t know how, Officer Ned was able to reach back and grab the assist handle along the interior frame of the portal—maybe he had hold of it all along, I don’t know, but it certainly seemed like he was free-flying there at first. It certainly seemed like I was about to lose everybody, there, and if that had happened I seriously don’t know if I might have lost all hope and simply stepped out after them. One wrong step is all it takes, remember? Out instead of in. Forward instead of back. I really think I might have just stepped out after them.

  But Officer Ned got hold of that assist handle and was able to pull Malcolm back inside, along with himself. All three of us fell onto the mat. I immediately clambered back up to grab the door handle and try to pull it shut. The plane was climbing, though. The air in the fuselage was compressing, creating a dense force that pushed outward on the walls of the aircraft. I wasn’t strong enough, and the longer it took to close the door the harder it would be to close at all, and if we didn’t close the door soon then the altitude would thin out the oxygen, we’d pass out and every last thing in that galley that wasn’t bolted down would get sucked from the fuselage. Including us. We were far from bolted down.

  I struggled with the door until I thought I’d break in half, then suddenly Officer Ned’s arms appeared in my peripheral vision and grasped the door lever above me. With a mighty tug we were able to close the door and lock the lever. The engines still roared loudly as always, but it seemed quiet as a meadow now in comparison to having the exterior door open during flight. I turned to Officer Ned, so grateful I wanted to throw my arms around him. But when I caught sight of his face I stopped.

  “Are you….” he began, his face as gray as asphalt. Then his eyes rolled back in their sockets and he hit the ground like a safe. I stood there, a little stunned by the events that had just transpired.

  “Oh, man,” I heard Malcolm groan, still gasping for breath, “it’s like I have the world’s worst wedgie right now.”

  It wasn’t until then that I noticed—clutched tightly in Malcolm’s arms—dear Captain Beefheart, his sweet, incongruously feminine eye-linered eyes bright with excitement, his tail stub wiggling. Officer Ned’s boot was still grasped in his teeth. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I collapsed to the ground myself, ready to crack up laughin
g. I had the smile on my face and everything. But the funny thing is I burst into sobs instead.



  FBI Telephone Conversation Transcript, cont.


  04/01/2013, 12:22 P.M.

  Agent Kowalski:

  Young lady, tell me exactly who you are and what is going on up there. Immediately. And where did you get this phone?

  April Manning:

  I’m in the cargo hold. I got this phone from the pocket of someone who was trying to murder my friend. I tried calling the FBI directly, but your receptionist is really picky about who she puts through. I think you need a new training program.

  Agent Kowalski:

  Who are you?

  April Manning:

  I’m an unaccompanied minor on board World­Air flight 1021. I don’t have a lot of time. The plane is being hijacked. Let me tell you what I need—

  Agent Kowalski:

  Are you making demands?

  April Manning:

  I guess it depends on how you look at it. I just need you to please not shoot us down just yet.

  Agent Kowalski:

  It’s not up to me. It’s up to the president, the NTSB, and the FAA. Has the cockpit been breached?

  April Manning:

  I’m pretty sure.

  Agent Kowalski:

  Unless communication is reestablished with the pilots, I can’t say what will happen.

  April Manning:

  Can you get a message to them?

  Agent Kowalski:

  Can you tell me what happened to my informant?

  April Manning:

  Your informant tried to kill a flight attendant on board, but it backfired on him. I mean, like, literally.

  Agent Kowalski:

  What do you need me to tell the NTSB and the FAA?

  April Manning:

  Three things:

  Please give me twenty minutes before you deploy counter measures. I think I can regain control of the cockpit.

  The old fax machine in the flight deck runs on a different frequency than the cockpit radio. So we can receive faxes, but not send them. Please find the number and fax the coordinates needed for landing this thing. Make sure not to fax it now, but at least twenty minutes from now.

  There’s a bomb on board. I’m sending you a picture of it right now.


  We didn’t have much time to sit around, relieved and grateful that the four of us hadn’t just performed a ’chuteless formation dive out the galley door—but believe me, we were. As soon as I got my bearings I was up again, heading for the opening in the galley wall that led to the plane’s avionics, followed by Malcolm, who had fashioned a baby sling out of an airline blanket and now kept Captain Beefheart tied in there, tucked snugly against his chest. Officer Ned, whom we had revived by letting Beefheart lick his face until he opened his eyes, followed us as well. I’d given Officer Ned another painkiller from Flo’s supply, and while I was rummaging in her bag I found the three other bullets missing from her gun’s chamber.

  “Are you sure you’re okay?” I asked Officer Ned.

  “I’m fine,” he said, sounding anything but. “This is not my first time.”

  “Not your first time doing what?” Malcolm asked.

  “Not my first time getting shot.”

  Officer Ned gulped down the painkiller gratefully without even needing any water, while Malcolm and I glanced at each other in mutual admiration of him. The wound on his arm had started bleeding again, probably due to the exertion from the incident at the galley door, while the wound at his rib seemed bearable for him if he clutched it tightly while he limped.

  “At least I have both my boots now,” he said. I thought he was going for levity, but if so his expression sure hadn’t gotten the message.

  I had one foot through the opening in the bulkhead when suddenly the lights went out. Blink. I mean all of them. It was pitch-black down there but for a tiny ray of daylight coming through a small porthole in the galley door, which did us no good.

  “What’s going on?” Officer Ned whispered.

  “Someone at the flight attendant control panel must have knocked out all the lights,” I answered. Since there weren’t any menacing attempts to get at us from above, I suspected the hijackers assumed we weren’t much of a threat. They probably thought Officer Ned was dead or close to it, and Malcolm and I were just unaccompanied minors. What did we know.

  “What do we do?” Malcolm asked.

  I rifled through my bag and produced the carabiner with the pin light, the one I’d used weeks ago in Cinderblock’s trunk. “Take this,” I said, and handed it to Officer Ned. It didn’t do much in terms of illumination, but at least it was something. “There should be a flashlight under the jumpseat. I can feel my way back there. I’ll be right back. Both of you stay here.”

  They ignored me without hesitation and followed me back into the galley.

  Each aircraft jumpseat is equipped with a regulation flashlight nearby to be used in the event of an emergency, and in the case of the L-1011 it is secured by a Velcro strap beneath the fold-down seat. But when I felt for it, it wasn’t there. It must have been knocked loose during all the ruckus and had likely been blown out with the other unsecured items when the galley door was open. Dang! I thought. Then Malcolm spoke up.

  “Did I see some baking soda in the refrigerator earlier?” he asked.

  I nodded, then remembered he couldn’t see me. “Yes, why?” I asked.

  “Where is it?” he asked. I could hear his hands patting the stowage flaps, looking for the one that led to the refrigerator.

  “It’s the last flap on your left. Just flip up the toggles over the handle to unlock it.”

  He did so, and asked Officer Ned to shine the pin light inside. “Aha!” he said. “April, can you bring me a plastic water bottle from the beverage cart… no, not that one, the big one… and a couple of cans of Mountain Dew? Great, thanks. And where is the first aid kit?”

  “What are you doing?” Officer Ned asked. I had an idea of the answer, and was excited to see if it would work.

  “Just watch,” Malcolm said.

  He unscrewed the water bottle and poured its contents down the sink. Then he opened the cans of Mountain Dew and, as best he could in the dim light, he transferred the beverage into the plastic bottle.

  “What do you need from the first aid kit?” I asked.

  “A couple of sterile wipes,” he responded.

  I unwrapped the wipes from their packets and handed them to him. He wadded them up and dropped them into the bottle. They splashed quietly into the Mountain Dew. Malcolm then knocked about a teaspoon of the baking soda into the palm of his hand and gently brushed that into the mixture as well. Lastly, he recapped the bottle and shook it vigorously.

  The result was splendiferous. The liquid inside glowed a bright, luminescent green, brighter than a traffic signal. It was so bright it lit the galley enough for me to read a newspaper if I wanted.

  I clapped my hands in excitement. “So totally awesome!”

  “What is that?” Officer Ned asked.

  “You haven’t seen the video? It’s a YouTube sensation,” Malcolm explained. “You just mix Mountain Dew with a bit of baking soda, add a little hydrogen peroxide….”

  “The sterile wipes!” I said.

  “… right, the sterile wipes that come in first aid kits usually contain hydrogen peroxide, or at least I was banking on the fact that these did.”

  Officer Ned looked impressed. “How does that happen?” He pointed to the bottle of glowing liquid.

  “It’s just a chemical reaction that causes the liquid to glow like plutonium,” Malcolm answered, adding, “for some reason.”

  I wanted to kiss him, but I didn’t know how long the light would last inside the bottle. So I simply swore I’d never drink Mountain Dew again (I bet chemical toilets are composed of more organic ingredients), and the three
of us ventured back through the hole in the wall and into the cargo bay.

  One thing I’d noticed when Malcolm was retrieving the baking soda was that the cooler door, when open, lay flat against the bulkhead and concealed the top half of the hole I’d created. So once we were through, I opened the cooler door behind us and pulled out a heavy beverage cart from the nearest sleeve and secured its brake, which in turn concealed the lower half of the hole. It wasn’t a David Copperfield illusion, but I thought it would work to cover our tracks for a bit, especially in a pitch-dark galley.

  As we crept along the catwalk, Malcolm asked me, “What did Flo mean by that message she told you through the intercom?”

  I stopped for a moment as the thought of Flo sent a wave of despondence through my entire body. It was literally a physical effort to push it aside in order to forge ahead. I can’t fall apart about Flo right now, I thought. I’d fall apart about her tomorrow, and the day after, and so on. But right now was not the time.

  “It’s an episode of MacGyver. Other than that, I’m not sure what she meant,” I admitted.

  “You don’t know the episode she’s talking about?” he asked. “Let’s get out your DVDs and read the episode summaries.”

  “Actually, I know the episode she was referring to really well; I just don’t know how she meant for it to help us in this situation.”

  “Well, little lady.” Officer Ned’s speech was beginning to slur a little due to the painkillers, and I could see through the glow of Malcolm’s Mountain Dew lantern that he grinned dreamily. “Why don’t you go on and tell us what the episode is about, and maybe we can put our heads together and come up with some suggestions.”

  “Okay,” I agreed. “In this episode, MacGyver takes a trip to the wilderness with a bunch of gang-member delinquents as part of some probation program—”

  “What wilderness, where?” Officer Ned asked thoughtfully. He furrowed his brow and stroked his goatee like Sigmund Freud.

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