Unaccompanied minor, p.8

Unaccompanied Minor, page 8

 

Unaccompanied Minor
 


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  But all she asked me was “How’d you get that shiner?”

  “Unruly crack-addict gunshot victim,” I answered.

  She waved me through and I gathered my things off the x-ray conveyor, hurried to the World­Air concourse, and went down the stairs to the large, windowless cluster of hallways and communal rest areas deep in the bowels of the LAX airport that houses the crew lounge. I stayed there for two and a half days. My constant presence went undetected because everyone else was in transit. It’s why the World­Air crew lounges are the perfect places to hide.

  First task at hand was to assess my resources. I withdrew Jalyce’s small pocketbook from my backpack and opened it to discover that it was not her pocketbook at all, but Kathy’s. Awesome, I thought. I looked at the name on her driver’s license and saw that, indeed, the horrid little ferret’s full name was actually Catherine Galleon Landry.

  Kathy’s small wallet contained one hundred and sixty dollars in cash, which I gratefully folded and tucked into the side pocket of my backpack along with her driver’s license, a slip of paper covered in some nearly indecipherable scribbling and penciled notations (all I could make out were the words “angel” and “angels,” which I found hugely ironic), and a small plastic device the size of a playing card with a clip on the back that at first I took to be Ash’s garage-door opener.

  Funny, I thought, why didn’t she give this to Cinderblock instead of the key? It would have given him carte blanche access to the condo, because the door leading to the garage from the kitchen didn’t even have a lock.

  But upon closer inspection I saw the device wasn’t a garage-door opener at all—or at least not Ash’s. Instead of a clicker, it had a small screen on the front for a digital display. So whatever it was, it was going in my backpack with the other pertinent items I recovered from her purse.

  Everything else—the purse, the small wallet, a few credit cards, a tube of lipstick, and a packet of condoms (yuck)—I divided among all the trash receptacles throughout the facility. Other than the driver’s license, it didn’t look like Kathy had lost much to slow her down. The small purse was probably just an auxiliary bag, because I’d seen her usual purse and it was big enough to easily fit a bunch of severed heads inside.

  Over the next few days, I grabbed what I could from the lost-and-found room—a small Rollaboard, a pair of purple flip flops, a pair of men’s comfortably worn size 7 regulation loafers, some uniform pieces that could also pass for regular clothes—and stealthily committed petty thievery from the bags of dozing flight attendants to get the rest. A word of advice: those supposedly TSA-approved, candy-colored luggage locks? They’re a piece of cake to pick. Ash used them regularly, which cracked me up. (To the girl who reached her layover to discover all her makeup and underwear had disappeared from her bag, I say sorry and thank you.)

  The second day, once I was presentable, I asked the guy at the supervisor window to please check on “our colleague” Jalyce Sanders. I told him I heard she’d been hurt or something, and I wanted to know where to send the flowers. He pulled up Jalyce’s schedule and said, “Well, she must have recovered, because her schedule is normal. I don’t see any absences.”

  “Wait… what?”

  “Yeah, she came in today a few hours ago. She’s working the gate to Atlanta this afternoon.”

  I thanked him and walked away, rubbing my temples. I knew that was Jalyce I had seen in the trunk of Old Cinderblock’s Impala. I still had her broken tortoiseshell eyeglasses and her employee badge in my bag. I knew she was dead. I knew it. I thought about calling the police again, but look what happened last time. I’m an unaccompanied minor. Evidently all Kathy had to do was show up with a court order and, boom!, suddenly I’m the one who gets locked up and treated like a criminal.

  I was sure the police would simply follow protocol, hand me over, and assume it would be sorted out later. Remember Jeffrey Dahmer? The Milwaukee serial killer who cooked his victims like a stew and kept their body parts hanging around like a human BBQ smokehouse? One of his victims—a naked and bleeding fourteen-year-old—actually escaped and called 911, only to have the police officers hand the kid back to Dahmer, who’d told them he was responsible for the boy, and they believed him simply because he was older and it was easier that way.

  It was sorted out later, of course, when police were sifting through the decaying pile of corpses at Dahmer’s place and—“Oh, looky, there’s the severed head of that kid from earlier.” [Palm slap to the head.] “Make sure to notate that.”

  So no, I have no illusions about how my rights as a minor would play out at the precinct with Kathy standing there waving a paper signed by a judge. They’d hand me over like a bouquet of roses. Are you kidding? I’m an unaccompanied minor. I have no rights.

  And Ash—who knew where he fit into all this? At first I assumed he was the one who put Kathy up to all this, but then why bother with Old Cinderblock if that were the case?

  Plus, Ash had e-mailed me twice since I’d been abducted. They were the same vitriol he usually expected me to pass on to my mother, this time about how he was going to drag her back into court because it was her fault that the wallpaper on my iPad depicted a bunch of naked men.

  It didn’t. My iPad wallpaper depicted a collection of artwork by Michelangelo, such as the statue of David and the paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which, in the real world, would be considered masterpieces of the Renaissance. But, again, family court doesn’t exist in the real world.

  Anyway, Ash’s e-mails showed no sign that he knew or cared whether I was missing. It seemed to me that if Ash wanted to track me down so his cronies could finish a botched hit, he would have tried to trick me into revealing where I was. I’d known him since I was four, so I was pretty versed in his duplicity. If he was trying to put one over on me, it would have read as inauthentic as a big bag of breast implants. So I was reservedly skeptical about his involvement in all this, but still considered him a vain, worm-hearted weasel.

  The next day I felt prepared to leave the lounge. The bruise on my forehead had diminished to where it could be hidden by makeup, I had an adequate supply of clothes and amenities, plus I was beginning to have repeated run-ins with the same people as they passed through the lounge on their way to work their trips. So I used the company computer to access my mother’s employee interface, booked myself jumpseat on a flight to Detroit, printed out my boarding voucher, and ventured upstairs.

  I looked around the concourse to be assured no one would come running to tackle me, and was relieved to encounter the customary crowd of self-focused bovines as far as the eye could see, so I slipped into it seamlessly. On the way to the Detroit flight, I passed the Atlanta gate and stopped at a distance to see what I could make of it. I didn’t recognize the person there, so I came closer until I was standing directly across the counter from the gate agent.

  “Can I help you?” She smiled at me expectantly. Her badge read Jalyce Sanders; her face read anything but.

  “No,” I said. “I just thought you were somebody I knew.”

  CHAPTER 6

  Since then I’ve kept the events of that day at Ash’s condo to myself, except I sent an anonymous e-mail to Officer Ned imploring him to please look into the disappearance—and stolen identity—of Jalyce Sanders. I tried to be as detailed as possible without revealing my identity, including the involvement of Kathy Landry and describing Old Cinderblock, his car, and most of his car’s license plate numbers—but I had no idea if he did as I asked. I sincerely hoped so. Aside from Officer Ned, I don’t trust the police, for obvious reasons, and I didn’t want to endanger my mother and other family members—including Flo—by putting them on my radar as I’d done to poor Jalyce. Again, I’d spent the last few weeks in a literal holding pattern, trying to determine my next move. I no longer communicated with my mother via Skype, but rather through e-mail. As long as she knew I was okay, she didn’t push for details. She assumed I was at Ash’s place, and I didn’t corre
ct her.

  And my grandparents? Ash had issued a protective order barring them from coming into physical contact with me. It had to do with “not allowing” me to celebrate Easter, a move that was surprisingly effective in the Bible Belt. I kept in contact with them via e-mail as well. I didn’t have to worry about running into Grammy Mae because she worked a regional airline and rarely traveled nonrevenue, and Poppa Max hated to nonrev. He was so content with his vegetable garden that it kind of warmed your heart. I wish things were that simple for me.

  My father’s parents were gone. My grandfather Roy, the airline engineer who used to let me help him study for his annual recurrent training, died a year and a half ago when the jack supporting the vintage Ford Rambler he was restoring collapsed and crushed his chest. That was a bad day. I was nuts about him. We used to spend every Sunday afternoon conducting experiments and testing the viability of any number of inventions he’d concocted over the years. He had a large barn at the back of his property, and it was packed with gadgets and motorized pulleys and levers. It was like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory in there, only with machines. Talk about a personal paradise. When we got the news, I remember my mother sitting on the couch and crying almost as hard as she did when my dad died.

  “He was such a good man,” she sobbed. I sat on the floor crying as well, and rested my head against her knee, patting her calves until we both seemed to feel better.

  My father’s mother had passed away when he was a boy, from hypobaropathy (or altitude sickness) while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with a group of fellow flight attendants on a ten-day layover in Tanzania during the late seventies. She and Flo had been best friends, having graduated from the same flight attendant training class in 1967.

  I kept a picture of them in my backpack. In it, she and Flo are standing in the massive engine well of a World­Air jet, each wearing one of those iconic pink-and-orange uniforms designed by Pucci for World­Air stewardesses back in the day. The uniform consisted of a short tunic over nearly-as-short hot pants, and white patent-leather boots. Their bleached platinum-blond hair is styled in the volumized cascade that was popular then, with a center strand clipped at the crown like Nancy Sinatra on the cover of her These Boots Were Made for Walkin’ single. Their youth and beauty are absolutely incandescent.

  When I looked at their picture, I’d get flooded with a nostalgia I’m not nearly old enough to feel. Wow, I think, it must have been so insanely amazing to be a stewardess back then, and my heart swells with pride. I kept the picture pressed in a compact flipbook along with those of the rest of my family. One each. I had to keep it light. None of my family members had any idea I lived in the air. Only Flo knew that secret, and never pressed me on why it needed to be kept.

  PART VI

  THE BOMB THREATS

  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

  Investigator Peter DeAngelo, NTSB:

  April, Agent Kowalski of the FBI has arrived and he has some questions for you as well.

  April Manning:

  I spoke to him on the phone!

  DeAngelo:

  Exactly. Here he is now. I’m leaving for a bit to get a cup of coffee and let him take over for a while. Can I get you anything?

  April Manning:

  Yes, please. A Gatorade and a blanket, please.

  DeAngelo:

  Fine. Agent Kowalski, maybe you can help her get around to describing how she committed the federal crime of breaching the cockpit of an operational aircraft.

  Investigator Anthony Kowalski, FBI:

  April Manning, I take it?

  April Manning:

  Nice to meet you—

  Kowalski:

  Yeah, right. Listen, the first thing I want to know from you, young lady, is this: How the hell did you manage to throw a dead man off an aircraft during flight?

  April Manning:

  I should start with the bomb threats.

  Kowalski:

  That would be good.

  April Manning:

  When Ash first won custody of me, it was Malcolm’s suggestion that I write a letter to Judge Cheevers threatening to bomb a plane.

  “Since your stepdad is now your primary physical custodian,” he said, “he is responsible for everything you do now. Before, when your mother had custody, you never threatened to bomb things, right?”

  “Right.”

  “So this would be a new development in your behavior. It would constitute a ‘change in circumstance,’ so when you go back to court and get a real guardian ad litem this time, as opposed to some sucking bottom fish, you can reverse everything.”

  “Genius,” I told him.

  “Thank you,” he said.

  Another genius thing about Malcolm is that he finagled Captain Beefheart, real-live “emotional support” dog, out of his parents during the divorce. It was his guardian ad litem’s suggestion, and the only thing she did for him that seemed to put his welfare at a precedent. Now Malcolm has official papers and can bring Beefheart on board every flight, and he doesn’t even have to keep him in his carrier. Not once has Beefheart ever pooped on the plane, that I know of. There was that unfortunate time when he peed in the aisle, though.

  Malcolm acted like this was just pulling the wool over his parents’ eyes, but I could see how the dog really helped him with the perpetual transition from coast to coast. Beefheart was the most constant thing in Malcolm’s life. He was pretty constant in my life, too, come to think of it.

  And Captain Beefheart is not some pedigree puffball, like you’d expect from someone as rich as Malcolm. Instead, the dog is a Dumpster mutt with a half-chewed-off ear that looks like a baby crocodile covered in fur. In reality, Beefheart is a corgi/pit bull muttigree mix. He was found by a trash man who heard a puppy yelping inside the truck compactor. He dug it out and dropped it off at a rescue organization in Georgia called Angels Among Us.

  Beefheart was then trained in an experimental program instigated by the Fulton County Penitentiary that used prison inmates to train the animals, which included all kinds of creatures like spider monkeys and even miniature horses. Malcolm qualified for a support animal about six months ago, owing to the amount of time he’d flown as an unaccompanied minor.

  “All I had to do was tell the court-ordered co-parenting counselor I cried a lot on the airplane (Malcolm never cried that I saw), and boom!, instant prescription for Captain Beefheart.”

  The prisoners get to name the pets they trained, and Captain Beefheart came already christened. Malcolm learned it was in honor of an avant-garde musician who’d gained cult fame during the seventies and early eighties.

  “Still, why Captain Beefheart of all things?” I wondered.

  “Maybe Frank Zappa was too mainstream,” Malcolm responded.

  Beefheart had an official green vest, and was cleared by World­Air to board all aircraft. Much of Beefheart’s extensive training was unnecessary for Malcolm’s purposes. For example, Malcolm didn’t need Beefheart to flip light switches and only had him retrieve things for him for fun.

  “How cool is this?” Malcolm would exclaim, dispatching Beefheart up the aisle to nip some extra pretzel packets off the back of the snack cart.

  “Can you send him back for some cookies, too?” I’d ask, impressed.

  “Of course.” And off Beefheart would go to the quiet cheers of the nearby passengers.

  I loved that dog. He made me wish I had one of my own to bring on the plane. I remember my mother tried to assign me one, but because Ash was my primary physical custodian and held sway with decision-making authority on all aspects of my life, of course he vetoed anything that would make it easier for me to deal with my present circumstances.

/>   So I’d use my mother’s password to pull up a preliminary flight summary to see if an emotional support animal was listed on the departure report. Nine times out of ten, on the flights to LAX out of ATL and vice versa, it was Captain Beefheart. It was a reliable way of discerning the pattern of Malcolm’s flight habits. Luckily they often coincided with Flo’s flight habits, especially since Flo let me put in the bids for her trips every month. So, even though I should have been used to it, my heart still skipped a beat when I saw him. Even on this fateful flight, up until the hijacking, I was so happy to see Malcolm on the plane.

  FBI subject log, April 1, 2013, 13:34:

  April Mae Manning Born: April 1, 1998 (15 years old today)

  Caucasian female, light brown shoulder-length hair, green eyes, 56, 105 lbs.

  Identifying marks: Large scar, right arm

  Parents:

  Elizabeth Davenport Manning (divorced)

  Flight Attendant, World­Air

  Born: November 16, 1974 (39 years old)

  Robert Madison Coleman (deceased October 12, 2003)

  Flight Attendant, World­Air

  Born: September 16, 1974 (29 at time of death)

  Ash Underwood Manning (divorced)

  Pilot, World­Air

  Born: March 15, 1967 (49 years old)

  Adoptive father, primary physical custodian

  Malcolm Jeffrey Colgate (14 years old) Born: January 2, 1998

  Caucasian male, red wavy hair, brown eyes, 55, 95 lbs.

  Identifying marks: Freckles

  Parents:

  Matilda Marie Remington Colgate (divorced)

  Morton McGill Colgate (divorced)

  Founders, Global Colgate Enterprises, under investigation for tax fraud since April 2010.

 
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