Saturday, March 2, 2013

Chapter 19: Unclear Landing

McKenna's heart jumped as the plane touched ground, jolting all of the passengers around. She wished should could have been sitting next to Luke instead of behind him so that grabbing his hand would have been easier. Not that she wanted to force anything lovey dovey. She usually squeezed whoever's hand was next to her on airplane landings.

The plane's wheels grazed the ground and then landed all the way. The plane zoomed down a runway strip but eventually slowly came to a halt.

She breathed a quiet sigh of relief. At least they hadn't died in the air or on the landing. Now they'd give the actual ground a try. McKenna didn't really know what they were even up against. All she knew was that Alfonzo seemed adamant about them all arriving to Paris and that Jewel and the whole train fiasco gang mash-up had to be rectified. She hoped Luke's white personality could actually have the power to make everything work out. Because her blue personality was worrying herself that they weren't going to all be okay after this venture to Paris.

Apparently they were all in mortal danger from the Gordovos gang if they didn't make their way to Paris. She didn't know if Alfonzo was planning on sitting down to negotiate over baguettes or what. Maybe they could try chocolate croissants. Who couldn't agree over a chocolate croissant?

But this being in the dark business was getting a little out of hand.

The plane finally halted and everyone stood.

"Hold up," McKenna said. "Everyone stay here. Now, Alfonzo, would you please explain what our goals in France are exactly?"

Alfonzo scrunched his eyes closed, and everyone else knew he'd be rolling his eyes if they were opened. But Alfonzo was too classy for eye rolls.

"We are here to find Chris, or any member of the Gordovos gang, so we can rectify this horrendous situation in which we are all running for our lives."

McKenna wasn't really that much more enlightened than before.

"Umm, okay. And how exactly are we going to do this?"

Alfonso gripped Jewel's chair headrest. "They know that we're coming. We will go to that train station and bargain with them to let them know we will not give them up to the authorities, and in return we will have all of our lives in tact."

The plane was silent. Then Luke ran a hand through his hair and turned to Alfonso.

"But, Fonz, how do we know that they're going to agree with us? What if they kill us all right there?"

Alfonso started toward the plane door holding his wounded arm gently. "I don't know this. But that's why we're meeting in the train station. I don't really think they want five bodies on the gang's hands. They have too many other problems to have us all publicly murdered."

Alfonso's sentiments didn't really assuage McKenna's worries or inquiries, but she followed the rest of her posse of the plane anyway so she could see what would be ahead for all of them. They were already deep into this and if they turned around and went home now, so didn't really foresee anything good for any of them if they were on their own.

Outside among the green trees of Paris there was an SUV with tinted windows. Of course. How in the world did Alfonso have all these connections? He seemed like he was straight out of a spy movie.

They piled into the SUV and McKenna made sure to sit between Luke and her father. This seemed to be the norm for them by now. She was linked to both her father and to this group through this strange train station boy, Luke.

I guess he isn't really a boy anymore, she thought to herself. But I still feel like a little lost girl unsure of what we're doing in Paris.

Jewel found an iPod hook-up in the vehicle and started playing her music to the group. McKenna just simply could not fathom the world's obsession with Adele.

She wondered what would happen when they made it out of this whole situation. Would they still always be looking over their shoulder for people out to get them? Would any of them truly ever be safe? Then she thought back to her mother. She would lose her boyfriend, because McKenna just didn't see how a gang leader boyfriend was going to be acceptable. Hopefully they would find a way to be safe again.

Luke nudged her with his knee. She looked over at him and he offered a half smile to her and nodded out the window. It was the Eiffel Tower.

McKenna didn't have any distinct memories of Paris when she was younger, but seeing the Eiffel Tower brought a little bit of nostalgia back. Why couldn't it just be as easy as it was back then? Sure, her parents had fought a lot, but she was usually the one to bring them both to their senses. They'd be arguing about tickets to the Louvre and she'd tell them to stop and look up, and then they both calmed down because they were in awe of the Eiffel Tower. That distraction trick had slowly stopped working through the years though.

McKenna sighed and then threw back a tiny smile to Luke and then turned to face the front.

She didn't know French but she saw a freeway sign that said they'd be at the Gare du Nord station in 1 kilometer.

Alfonso steered the car toward the exit and the station was suddenly in sight.

Here we go, she thought. Then she gripped the edge of her seat and prayed that they would all survive this.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Chapter 18: Colorful

Needless to say, McKenna had never been on a 15-foot private jet so she hadn’t really known what to expect. Turns out, personal space was a ridiculous expectation. The plane was tiny!  It was obviously intended for a rich drug lord and his mistress (or possibly the CEO of Fisher Price and his wife) but it was not fit for 5 passengers, a pilot, and a doctor.

But here they were anyway.

The interior was plush and luxurious. The four seats at the front were separated by a small coffee table with fancy French coasters.  The seats were of the arm-chair variety and could swivel 360 degrees to face all members of the party. There was a tiny (yet effective) mini bar on the rear right complete with stools and more coasters.  Alfonzo was undergoing some pretty extensive medical work in the rear of the airplane and was taking up a good portion of the bar space. Jewel claimed the seat on the right and immediately turned the chair to the window, wrapped her arms around her knees, and stuck in her iPod ear buds. Ron crashed into the single seat behind her and was using his Persian pillow for its intended purpose.  McKenna sat across from the aisle from her dad and was pleased to see Luke sit in the seat directly ahead, not that he had much choice, really. But still.  

The plane lifted off. McKenna closed her eyes, fully expecting to sleep for the next ten hours.  From the faint sounds of Taylor Swift on repeat and the not-so-faint sound of snoring, she could tell that two passengers were already asleep.  McKenna fluffed her pillow and took off her sneakers. She closed her eyes, but sleep didn’t come. Thirty seconds later she realized she was too wired for snoozing. She opened her eyes right as Luke was spinning his swivel chair 180 degrees so that he was facing her directly.

“Oh!” McKenna was startled by the sudden movement.

“Sorry! Were you going to sleep?” Luke apologized and started to turn back around.

McKenna grabbed the arm rest of his chair and swiveled her own so they were facing each other at an angle, but both facing the window. How romantic.  “No, no. Sleep isn’t happening for me. At least not right now. “
There was an awkward silence as McKenna stared out the window. Luke could pick up the sound of Adele’s whiny voice coming from Jewel’s headphones. (Jewel must have an intense break-up play list.)

Luke caught himself staring at McKenna for a little longer than is considered socially acceptable, but he really couldn’t fathom the character of the girl sitting next to him. He was dying to know how she worked. What motivated her? What were her passions? Biggest heart-break? Life ambitions? There were so many questions that were running through his mind that he asked the first one that came to his lips.

“What color are you?”

McKenna threw him a bewildered look and he realized he’d have to explain his fascination with the psychology of the four color personalities. “I mean, do you know about the color code test? The one where different colors represent different motivations, drives, faults, and other stuff. Like Reds are leaders and like power, but they can be really good at motivating groups.  Blues just love everyone and like being close to those they love. Yellows are the fun flaky kids that don’t get anything done, but have wild parties. And Whites are peacemakers that go with the flow and are determined to make things work even if it is against all odds. It’s stupid, but I just learned about it in high school, and I kinda thought it was cool, but of course you probably don’t even want – “  Luke stopped rambling and looked up. McKenna was smiling. It was the first genuine smile he’d seen in a long time and his face immediately reflected the same grin.

“Luuuke…” McKenna drew out the letters in his name and gave him a knowing smile. “I love the color code test! I’ve studied it for years and I am obsessed with finding out the colors of all of the people I run into. I’ve met so many people with so many combinations of colors and it is so fascinating that they all have their place in the world.”

McKenna couldn’t stop with the grinning. What were the odds that the boy from the train station in France with the gray converse and the piercing eyes would be with her on a plane discussing her favorite form of psychology?

Luke was on the edge of his seat with his hands clasped in his lap ready to launch into a full detailed discussion about the color code. And it launched. They talked for over an hour about all the colors, sometimes leading to arguments about certain points. (Luke was convinced that all Yellows were slackers and had no redeeming qualities, but McKenna eventually convinced him that the world had a need for spontaneous adventurers).  They both agreed on the fact that Jewel was about as Red as they come and Alfonzo was an interesting arrangement of all four colors.  They laughed and joked, touched and flirted. The tension from the last 36 hours was finally alleviated as they became friends. The conversation began to veer to other topics, like high school, best friends, favorite fast-food, best vacation spot (Paris didn’t make the list for either of them), most embarrassing moment, celebrity crushes, and life ambitions.   

Hours seemed to fly by. Alfonzo had long since been deemed “fixed” and was up talking to the pilot. Ron and Jewel both continued sleeping except for occasional bathroom breaks. The plane made its steady journey across the Atlantic.

McKenna realized how easy it was to talk to Luke and faced the fact that her little obsession with The Boy with the Gray Converse, was quickly turning into a crush on The Boy Who Knew the Color Code. This moment was a small slice of paradise within the tumultuous sea that had become her life. McKenna decided she wouldn’t have any trouble playing the part of a young couple roaming the streets of Paris, and she was actually looking forward to some real alone time with Luke. Minus the fact that they would be chasing the bad guys by then and probably wouldn’t have time to delve into deep discussion about love languages or super-heroes. At least if all went well – meaning they all live through this – they would have another 10-hour flight back to Artichoke.

Although her body probably needed the sleep, her brain and heart begged her to continue talking to Luke. When he came back from getting crème sodas from the mini bar, McKenna decided it was about time to answer his first question.

“So, when you asked hours ago what color I was… I never answered, but you probably already guessed.” She paused for dramatic effect.  “I’m a blue.  I’m the one that just loves everyone.” McKenna gave him a simpering smile and a pat on the knee. “Your turn. What color are you?”

Luke smiled and covered her hand with his own, “I’m a white. I’m the one that tries to make it work even when all the odds are against us.”

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Chapter 17: Jet

"You really need to get off of me, Luke," Alfonzo stated as Jewel waited for a response from the other line of the phone.

Luke immediately adjusted himself and climbed into the back seat, getting Alfonzo's blood on his pant leg on his way back. The car finally slowed down to an even seventy-five miles per hour, and it seemed like a turtle's pace.

Everyone was silent and finally Jewel spoke into the phone. "H-Hello. This is Jewel Laurent. . . I'm with Alfonzo. He says that we need a jet at location four." A muffled woman's voice replied, and the phone call ended. Jewel turned to Alfonzo and her eyes fell to his shoulder wound as she spoke. "The woman said that the jet will be there in an hour, if all runs smoothly on our end. She said that she'll be tracking our location." 

Alfonzo did not reply, but his lack of an answer somehow communicated that their plan was moving forward. They were going to France. McKenna shifted in her seat. The combination of nerves, confusion, and nausea caused by Alfonzo's injury was sinking in hard. "Jewel. . . can you turn up the air?" Since the back window was missing and the airflow seemed like nothing less than a tornado, Jewel didn't move. 

Realizing that McKenna apparently didn't have a stomach of steel when it came to blood, Luke turned and tried to help her. "Do you need something cold? I have a melted slushee. It's cherry." 

McKenna leaned down and put her head between her knees and Luke brushed tiny shards of the rear window from her hair. A slushee was the last thing she wanted, let alone a melted slushee. All she wanted was to see her mom, even though Alfonzo had promised her that her mother was safe and under close watch. She wanted to be back in her little town of Artichoke, back with her Zombie-obsessed best friend, Greg, working on their history project that was due next week. She didn't want to fly to France to where only mysteries were about to unfold. Only the unknown would result. Only danger would be greeting them when they arrived.

Then her mind drifted back to that day at the train station in Gare du Nord, France. Back when life seemed to be simple. Back to the day she found a brown paper bag on the seat next to hers. When that dark-eyed boy appeared from the crowd and snatched the bag from her grasp. She could still taste her confusion and curiosity as he bolted away with the fashion-deprived, middle-aged man with the newspaper. They both disappeared in the cab after the boy gave her that pleading, knowing look. . .

With a jolt, McKenna awoke from a deep sleep. Although she had fallen asleep with her head uncomfortably on her knees, she felt energized. Looking up at the clock on the dashboard, she was surprised to find that she had only slept for about an hour. Ron was sound asleep next to her, his head looking straight up so as to rest it on the seat behind him. He was probably snoring, but she couldn't hear over the sound coming in through the broken window. 

Jewel was curled up in a ball in the passenger seat with her hood on. She looked pretty helpless like that, rather than sarcastic and bitter like she was when she was awake. McKenna wondered what it would be like to have a gang banger trying to hunt her down. She realized that it just might be a little more frightening than what she felt now--the idea of hunting down the gang banger for some unknown reason that Alfonzo had yet to disclose.

She felt Luke next to her adjust his position. He was leaning against the window, face in palm, mouth wide open. He amused McKenna. He always seemed to act older than he really was, and always making sure she was happy. They barely knew each other, but she appreciated his concern for her, and was grateful to have a friend on this new and frightening journey. She wondered if Luke knew what would happen when they arrived in France--if Alfonzo ever updated him on their next plan of action, or if Luke just always followed his commands, trusting that the plan would unfold to the expected results.

Nearly forgetting that Alfonzo had just been shot just over an hour ago, McKenna blurted out, "Fonz, how's your arm?" The sleeping passengers jerked awake. 

Alfonzo found it almost as odd as McKenna that she'd chosen to use the nickname Luke always used for his uncle. They both ignored this, and Alfonzo responded with, "My shoulder is okay. There will be someone on the jet to remove the bullet. But the tourniquet you made seemed to stop the bleeding just fine." The gang all looked down at McKenna's sweater that wrapped around his bloody shoulder and arm. "We're about five minutes away from the jet, now."

Long minutes passed as the car sifted through the darkness of the early morning. Everyone started to stretch and adjust themselves to feel more awake. As the car turned down a tree-enclosed road, they could see a light just ahead of them. McKenna guessed that it was the platform for the private jet. Soon enough, her assumption was verified. A small jet, one that was smaller than she'd imagined, was parked on a large, cement platform. The jet was black and only about fifteen feet long. The plane was more than ominous--dark and leering at them with thin, green 'W''s on the side. 

Alfonzo pulled up next to the platform and turned off the car. He opened the door and stood up, and everyone else remained sitting, gawking at the next ten hours of their day.

Luke broke the hush. "Well, who's ready for a ride?" He turned to McKenna and smiled with his half-smile. She could tell that he was nervous for what lay ahead of them. She wondered if Luke had ever flown on Alfonzo's jet at location four, let alone at any of Alfonzo's "locations". He broke their eye contact and opened the car door. "Let's go."

Jewel got out of the car without saying anything. She and Luke wandered over to their uncle, who was talking to a tall man standing on the platform. The man was wearing a headset and sunglasses, even though it was still dark outside. 

Neither McKenna nor Ron moved from their seats. They both stared as Alfonzo talked with the tall man, who were obviously discussing his injured shoulder. 

"McKenna," Ron began. "Hand me your cell phone."

McKenna automatically reached to her pocket. "Luke took it from me when we were in your office," she responded, after finding her pocket was empty.

"I know, but when we got to the car, he slipped it in the side pocket of the door. Please hand it to me. I don't trust Alfonzo, and I want to have that phone with me. Just in case."

She reached over to the door, and sure enough, her phone was waiting there. Obediently she handed it to her father and said, "I really think Alfonzo is probably trustworthy."

"Emphasis on the 'probably' in that sentence. That's not enough for me." He slipped the phone into his pocket, kissed his daughter's head, and got out of the car. He reached his hand out to help McKenna out and asked, "Are you ready?"

Feeling a little more energized from her catnap in the car, McKenna felt a little more confident than she had just after the car chase. She gave her father a half-hearted nod, took his hand, and got out of the car. Together they walked over to Luke, Jewel, and Alfonzo, who had finished talking to the sunglasses man and were now discussing their next plan of action.

"The ride will be just over ten hours," Alfonzo explained. "We'll arrive at a platform just north of Le Havre. There, we'll split up and take a train to Paris. It'll be risky to be separated, but safer than if we all traveled together. McKenna and Luke: you'll be together. It makes the most sense, with your ages and the public observing you. The three of us," he gestured to Ron and Jewel, "will go together." McKenna didn't like the idea of being split up from her dad, and she could tell that he didn't like the idea any better. "It's only about three hours on the train, and then we'll make it to the station in Paris. And that's where our journey really begins." He turned and climbed onto the fluorescent-lit platform, not allowing any questions to be asked or answered. After motioning for the gang to follow him, they all plodded onto the platform, and headed after Alfonzo toward the jet.

A small door opened, and Alfonzo climbed onto the stairs and into the plane, holding his arm all the while. Jewel followed suit, and Luke turned to McKenna. "You set?" 

"Yeah," McKenna lied. "Hey, what about all the stuff we bought back at the grocery store? It's still in the car?"

"Alfonzo's boys will get it. They'll take care of us. But. . . Are you ready? You okay?"

"Yeah, I am," she lied again. Luke reached out and squeezed McKenna's hand.

"Me, too," he said, with his usual confidence and half smile. He let go of her hand, turned, and followed Jewel onto the jet.

"Ready for this, Dad?" McKenna asked her father without looking at him.

"I'm not sure I have a choice, Kenna. But I can be ready if you are."

McKenna grabbed the rail of the stairs leading to the aircraft. "I'm not really sure what exactly I'm doing or what's going to happen. . . But I think I'm ready for it." This time, as she glanced up to the friend she'd only had for a day, she wasn't lying about being ready for the adventures and mysteries that lay ahead.