Unaccompanied minor, p.19

Unaccompanied Minor, page 19

 

Unaccompanied Minor
 


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  So, as you know, there were no casualties from the tail zone. You’re welcome.

  When the rest of the fuselage finally came to a rest in a weed field parallel to the runway, the flight attendants barely had time to deploy the escape slides before the wings ignited and the aircraft burst into flames. I opened the cockpit door to see Flo holding the assist handle and directing people to “Jump and slide!” down the chute to safety. I was relieved to see Malcolm, with little Captain Beefheart still tucked into his improvised baby sling, at the bottom of the chute, helping people from the slide and directing them to run away from the plane. And I saw Ash, of course, just running away. I reached behind Flo, unhooked her hand from the assist handle, and hurled her down the slide. (It’s all in the leverage.) If these people can’t find their own way out, I thought, they don’t deserve to have Flo die trying to help them.

  I could hear the other, non-hijacker flight attendants dutifully calling out the crash commands to the passengers in order to direct their safe evacuation. (“Leave everything!”) Many of the passengers had already wisely crouched down to armrest level to feel their way out of the plane. I coughed and covered my mouth with my sleeve. Ash had already left, of course.

  Kathy, though, lay a few rows from me, slumped over her tray table, weakly mewling for help. I thought about it, the one wrong step—in instead of out, this way instead of that. Should I take it? I can’t really explain what happened next, except to say I suddenly found myself at her side, unbuckling her seatbelt and yanking her up. Just then another explosion racked the cabin, and I felt a blast of scalding air hit my face.

  Did I tell you that Officer Ned could move like lightning? I’m sure I did. Because faster than the flames could reach me, Officer Ned had his good arm around me and was running down the aisle, half lifting, half dragging me to the forward door. He dove us both out the opening, only to find that the slide had deflated. So he grabbed at the flapping sheet of rubber as we fell, trying to create friction to slow us down, then turned to ensure that his body fully broke my fall.

  A fleet of emergency vehicles had already been dispatched, and EMTs descended on me and Officer Ned mere moments after we hit the ground. The strong arms of the medical personnel pulled me to safety as others carried Officer Ned in the opposite direction. I called after him, but he didn’t answer me. I saw them put him in an ambulance. He was as limp as the slide hanging from the aircraft. Before they sped off, Old Cinderblock jumped into the ambulance at Officer Ned’s side and closed the door behind him.

  When the EMTs had me a safe distance from the burning aircraft, they determined that I wasn’t really all that hurt but for some sore lungs and all the hair framing my face scorched away. As they adjusted the oxygen mask over my face, I swore I heard someone calling my name from the weeds in the field nearby. I followed the sound, against the urgent advice of the EMTs, and rifled through the brush until the sound grew stronger.

  “April! Honey child!” LaVonda’s voice called. “What was that sound? Answer me, girl!”

  I picked up the imposter Brighton McPherson’s cell phone and brought it to my ear. “Hi, LaVonda!” I cried.

  “Oh, I am so happy to hear your voice,” she gasped with relief. “Lord, girl, what was that?”

  “That? That was just the plane crashing,” I told her. Then, for like the fiftieth time today, I’m embarrassed to say, I burst into sobs.

  LaVonda continued to patter to me comfortingly as the EMTs lifted me once again to transport me to safety. It was then that I noticed something looped around my elbow as I held the phone to my ear. What’s that? I thought. Lord, that’s heavy. I thought it was maybe a seat cushion tangled with my arm by the seatbelt, it was that big and heavy. But when I entered the ambulance and took a seat next to a number of other passengers with minimal injuries, I noticed that it was not a seat cushion at all. It was Kathy’s purse. Her main purse. The one big enough to carry a bunch of severed heads.

  CHAPTER 20

  Preliminary Accident Report, cont.

  World­Air flight 1021, April 1, 2013

  Present at transcript:

  April May Manning, unaccompanied minor

  Detective Jolette Henry, Albuquerque Police Department

  Investigator Peter DeAngelo, NTSB

  Investigator Anthony Kowalski, FBI

  and

  Alan Bertram, CEO, World­Air

  Investigator DeAngelo:

  Well, Agent Kowalski, what do you think of this?

  Agent Kowalski:

  I don’t know what to think of this.

  Alan Bertram, CEO, World­Air:

  Gentleman, sorry to barge in, but I wanted to give you the list of fatalities from this disaster today. I’m going to need to make a statement to the press as soon as possible, and I wanted to know if you’d concluded anything from your interviews of the survivors.

  Agent Kowalski:

  The death count is only five? That’s impressive.

  Investigator DeAngelo:

  Officer Ned Rockwell, Florence Davenport, Alby Madison, Hugh Newman, and April Manning.

  April Manning:

  I think you’re jumping the gun there.

  Alan Bertram:

  Oh, right. Four casualties. Let me correct that…. So, what have you concluded so far in regard to what caused the accident?

  Investigator DeAngelo:

  I’ll tell you what I’ve concluded. I have concluded that this girl is diabolical. She’s a juvenile criminal who hijacked and bombed an aircraft and now she actually thinks she can con her way out of it with this crazy story.

  April Manning:

  Malcolm Colgate will back me up.

  Investigator DeAngelo:

  Right, another unaccompanied minor. Who cares what he has to say.

  Agent Kowalski:

  Hey, hold on… we haven’t even tried to corroborate anything.

  Investigator DeAngelo:

  I don’t have to hold on. I have the authority to conclude this investigation based on my findings. If you don’t agree with me, Agent Kowalski, then you can submit your own findings to your own bureau.

  [sound of cell phone ringing.]

  Mr. Bertram:

  Please excuse me, gentlemen. I need to step down the hall and take this call.

  Investigator DeAngelo:

  Keep your hands on the table, April.

  April Manning:

  It’s just a cell phone. I’ll put it on speaker.

  Mr. Alan Bertram (via speakerphone):

  Kathy, sweetheart, darling, don’t be upset. I had no idea the bomb was on your plane. Do you think I’d let you make the money run if I’d known the bomb was on your plane? Huh, honey? Pumpkin? Hello? Kathy? Helloooo.

  Mr. Alan Bertram:

  I’m back, gentleman. Sorry about that. So, am I safe to make a statement that the preliminary investigation finds this girl responsible?

  Agent Kowalski:

  April, whose phone is that in your hand?

  April Manning:

  It belongs to Kathy Landry. I have her purse right here.

  Agent Kowalski:

  Detective Henry, please cuff Mr. Bertram and escort him outside. Don’t forget to read him his rights.

  Detective Henry:

  Mr. Bertram, please turn around and put your hands behind your back.

  Mr. Bertram:

  What’s the meaning of this? This is preposterous! Stop this immediately! Investigator DeAngelo, do something!

  Investigator DeAngelo:

  Uh… what do you think you’re doing, Agent Kowalski?

  Agent Kowalski:

  I’m arresting the CEO of World­Air. I have him on tape talking to a known felon referencing a money run and the bombing of an aircraft.

  Investigator DeAngelo:

  What tape?

  Agent Kowalski:

  The tape of this transcript, you dimwad.

  Investigator DeAngelo:

  Well, uh, we don’t have any conclusive evide
nce that….

  Agent Kowalski:

  How’s this for conclusive evidence: I’ve been running an undercover operation for the past three years. My main agent, whose identity I don’t care to disclose right now—

  April Manning:

  It’s Old Cinderblock, just say it. His cover is kinda blown.

  Agent Kowalski:

  Fine, my agent, Hugh Newman, was kind enough to fill me in on some things before I arrived here today.

  Investigator DeAngelo:

  Hugh Newman is on the fatality list!

  Agent Kowalski:

  Are you really that thick? Newman made this list. Nobody died on that plane today. We just needed to see how you’d act when you thought all the witnesses were out of the way.

  Investigator DeAngelo:

  What do you mean, how I’d act? What have I got to do with any of this?

  Agent Kowalski:

  Investigator DeAngelo, turn around and put your hands behind your back. You have the right to remain silent….

  PART XII

  THE TERM PAPER

  The Five People I Admire Most

  by

  April Mae Manning

  First, I appreciate how this term paper is asking me to make a list. I love lists. Second, I apologize for taking so long to finish this assignment. It took me a while to realize I had five people in my life who deserve my admiration. But in light of recent events, I’ve come to see that very differently. Today I now believe there are more than five people, even, which may inspire me to make a few lists within a list (which is awesome):

  1. Roy Coleman

  I admire my granddaddy Roy Coleman because he was a modest man who loved to labor with his hands. This is where he differed from his old friend and World­Air CEO Alan Bertram. They both started out as engineers, both hired on the same day at World­Air, but where Roy Coleman liked to push up his shirtsleeves and put in an honest day’s work, Mr. Bertram liked to climb the corporate ladder by stealing inventions from his oldest friend to skip as many rungs as possible on the way to the top.

  Some of my favorite memories are from the Sundays I used to spend with my granddaddy Roy while I helped him tinker with engines and test his inventions in the large barn in the back of his property. “To work is to pray,” he used to say to me.

  My granddaddy died when the jack supporting the vintage Ford Rambler he was restoring collapsed and crushed his chest. But before that, he had quietly amassed a portfolio containing escalating chunks of company stock bought with the fees from a number of patents on a number of inventions that had been licensed by World­Air. Before Granddaddy Roy died, he had never once even asked to see this portfolio, and afterward his old (backstabbing) friend Mr. Bertram had been entrusted to pay the renewal and licensing fees into a trust that had long ago been set up for my father and me. Evidently Mr. Bertram thought that since Roy Coleman was dead it would be better to pocket that money instead, but not before laundering it along with the other funds he was stealing from World­Air. He didn’t think anyone would notice. He was wrong about that.

  2. Officer Ned Rockwell

  It turns out Officer Ned used to be a linebacker for a professional football team, the name of which I won’t mention because he’s asked me not to. Anyway, this explains why he had the ability to move with the speed of a cheetah when circumstances called for it, what with his innate athletic reflexes and all. His football career lasted exactly one season before he was fired for beating the crap out of two teammates after he’d discovered they were running a dog-fighting ring. Officer Ned asked me not to mention that part, too. He said it wasn’t important, but we saw that differently.

  By my count, Officer Ned saved my life several times, once when he threw himself in front of the bullets heading for my face, and again when he pulled me out of the burning fuselage of the crashed World­Air flight 1021. And probably again when he broke my fall once we dove out the door together, only to be confronted by a deflated escape slide. He also saved the life of my friend Malcolm Colgate, not to mention Malcolm’s emotional support dog, Captain Beefheart. Malcolm and Beefheart are two of the most precious things I hold dear. If I’d lost them, I don’t know if I’d have been able to go on, so I count this as an official fourth time Officer Ned saved me. He seems uncomfortable with my gratitude, though.

  Following the crash, he was in a coma for a day and a half. When he awoke, the three first things he said were:

  “Are April and Malcolm okay?”

  “Where are my boots?”

  “Flo, put out that damn cigarette, this is a hospital!”

  He’ll deny it, but Flo swears this was the correct order of his post-coma statements, and she should know because she was there for a day and a half sleeping in an upholstered armchair next to his bedside, claiming to be his “patient advocate,” and demanding he receive the quality pain medication and not that “generic crap.”

  Considering his injuries, I’m impressed that Officer Ned only spent a week in the hospital recovering from them. But he kept reminding me this was not the first time he’d been shot, and haranguing that the worst of his hurt was due to the fall from the aircraft. It caused his other lung to collapse (the first lung had collapsed when he’d been shot in the ribs). “It didn’t help that you landed right on top of me,” he said. I didn’t remind him that he’d made sure to break my fall. Now that I’m a major shareholder in World­Air, I plan to recommend him to replace the head of company security. I hope he doesn’t turn it down like he did with the promotion he was finally offered from the Atlanta Police Department. First, he can’t be worse at the job than the present World­Air head of security is (I mean, all this happened right under his nose), and second, I plan to recommend LaVonda Morgenstern as his second in command (I can’t wait to see the combustion created by the chemistry of those two). How awesome would it be for me to be Officer Ned’s boss? I seriously can’t wait for that day. I might even give back his badge I stole.

  Anyway, even shot up and hopped full of painkillers, Officer Ned’s first thought is to help others before himself. I think it’s another reflex with him. A rare and amazing reflex worthy of my admiration.

  The boots, by the way, had belonged to his father, who was a motorcycle cop.

  3. Malcolm Colgate

  Some would say Malcolm is my only friend, but they would be wrong. More specifically, he is my only friend my age. I admire him because he’s brilliant for the following reasons (a list within a list!):

  He was the one who noticed that Flo had overheard the hijackers talking about how the NTSB had my voice making demands on tape in a telephone call. “How would the hijackers know that?” he asked. And he was right, of course; how would the hijackers know about that phone call—unless someone at the National Transportation Safety Board told them.

  He is the one who suggested I filibuster during my statement to the authorities to see if I could flush out who the traitor was. We knew it had to be somebody from the FBI or the NTSB, or even World­Air. That’s why my statement took ten million years to make. It was to give Old Cinderblock, otherwise known as undercover detective Hugh Newman, time to convince the authorities to send a bogus fatality list to the CEO of World­Air. I even had to impersonate the symptoms of mild shock, not that they cared. In the end it was bigger than even we thought, and our brains can go pretty far out there.

  He is almost as knowledgeable as I am when it comes to aviation disasters.

  He is also the one who persuaded his father to get his attorney to hound the police regarding the microchip implanted in Beefheart. (I swear, is it me? Or are the police sometimes as deaf as dirt when it comes to anything an unaccompanied minor has to say?) It turned out there was a ring of prisoners in the Fulton County Pen—one of whom was a previous CEO of World­Air serving four years for embezzlement—who were calibrating the microchips in the support dog–training program to convey the bank account numbers and other information needed to wash the funds in Grand Cayman. It turned
out that those microchips are electromagnetic, so they can easily be used as a sensor, as well, and also easily (Mr. Alan Bertram thought) be used to kill a giant bird with one stone. I seriously look forward to the day Malcolm gets to testify against him during the criminal trial against the CEO of World­Air for attempting to bomb one of his own aircraft.

  He also got his father’s attorney to file an official contempt charge against Kathy Landry for gross misconduct as a guardian ad litem. It’s a tiny drop in the bucket of the other charges pending against her right now, but it’s supremely satisfying for me and Malcolm—not to mention Captain Beefheart. To think it was her idea to enlist unwitting children of divorce—whose welfare she’d been entrusted with by the court!—and their innocent emotional support animals in this criminal scheme. “What a bottom fish,” as Flo would say.

  4. Florence “Flo” Beulah Butterfield Schnieder Chang Davenport

  I admire Flo because she’s sixty-seven years old, has seen it all and is surprised by none of it, not even a nonrev runaway who lives in the sky. She is the kind of person who can kill a man, come across a bomb, get shot in the head (pretty much), outsmart hijackers (one of whom was her estranged son), and just continue on like it was any other day. Oh, and let’s not forget the plane wreck. She stepped out of the escape slide like it was a limo door. For her the only personal casualty from the day was the big bun she styled her hair in. Today she has a cute haircut she calls “The Meg Ryan.” We got separated after the ambulance ride back to the concourse of Albuquerque International Airport. I told her to please go check on Officer Ned, and she did as I asked, but not before going through Kathy Landry’s purse to produce her cell phone and point out a few interesting names on the contact list. World­Air CEO Alan Bertram’s private cell number was listed under “Old Sucker.”

 
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