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Danica Cross wheeled the drinks cart down the narrow aisle, heading back
to the galley. The cabin of the 737 was hotter than usual and she blew her bangs
off her clammy forehead as she walked. While handing out drinks with plenty of
ice, she assured the passengers that the problem with the heat would soon be
She'd reported the passengers' complaints to the captain an hour ago, but she couldn't feel a noticeable decrease in the temperature at all and tempers were rising with the temperature.
She wasn't usually fanciful- and God only knew Captain Marks was an ass, but she doubted he'd leave the temperature this high intentionally. Danica hated to even think it, but something was wrong. She'd had this vague niggle of disquiet since flight 723 had taken off from San Crist�bal two hours ago, and the sensation had only became stronger.
With relief she pushed the drinks cart into the small galley and locked it in place, then tugged her white uniform shirt away from her damp skin at the small of her back.
"Did you give Monster Kid his ninety-ninth apple juice?" Angie Hotchner asked, handing Danica a cold soda.
While the more experienced flight attendant looked as hot as Danica felt, she didn't appear concerned. Danica tried to ignore the butterflies doing take off and landings in her tummy. Forcing a smile, she accepted the drink, rubbing the icy can over her forehead. "Shh, someone will hear you." Popping the tab, she rested her butt on the cabinet behind her as she drank.
"Oh, like they couldn't hear the kid whining for the past ten thousand miles?" Angie jerked her head toward the cabin. "Have you ever seen anyone kiss up to a seven year old like that?"
"This heats getting to everyone." All one hundred and forty-eight seats were occupied by members of President Palacios's sweating staff members. And one of those passengers was his very bored, very spoiled son. It had been a long, long flight from San Crist�bal to Miami with an all male, all demanding, all women-are-servants contingent of passengers. The heat, coupled with the loud demands of a cranky, whiny child, didn't help anyone's disposition.
Dani, Angie and first officer, Jean Harris, were the only females on board. Lucky them. The crew had been offered a hefty bonus to do the round trip from Miami to South America and back in one day. Danica had her eye on a nice little condo in Delray Beach. Thoughts of that bonus had kept her moving, and biting her tongue, as she'd worked her way through the cabin.
"He's President Palacios's only son," she finally answered after gulping the rest of soda and savoring the icy burn down her dry throat. "Guess the little guy's used to getting what he wants."
"Yeah?" Angie took a lipstick out of her pocket and uncapped it. "If he were my kid I'd blister his arrogant little butt so bad he wouldn't be able to sit down for a wee- Jay-sus! Is it menopause, or is it getting hotter in here?"
Danica tossed her empty can in the trash with studied nonchalance. "Everyone's still complaining. I'll go speak to the Captain again."
"May the force be with you."
Danica grinned as she pushed through the curtain, and turned to the secure door into the cockpit. She pressed the buzzer. Then stood there with the sensation of every dark eye from the cabin checking out her butt. Should've grabbed a diet soda. "Come on you guys, open up," Danica mumbled under her breath, glancing through the portal in the exit door at the blur of murky browns and faded greens thirty thousand feet below. They were already flying over the everglades. She'd be home in just over an hour. A dip in the apartment pool sounded heavenly.
She jabbed the buzzer again.
Jon, her soon to be ex, was a white knuckle flier. Perhaps in some perverse way, that's why Danica had become a flight attendant a year ago when she'd seen the writing on the wall. So much for soul mates.
"Open up, Jean." Danica muttered under her breath, frowning at the closed and locked door into the cockpit.
Dean Marks was an arrogant, womanizing jerk. And if the co-pilot had been any woman other than Jean, Danica would be convinced they were boinking in the cockpit. Which Marks had almost been caught doing on a flight to Singapore last year. But since Jean was a happily married grandmother of five, he wouldn't get to first base. Okay. So no mile high club in the cockpit. Why weren't they opening the friggin door? Bile churned in Dani's stomach.
Glancing down at the small gold watch on her wrist while she waited, she sighed. Still another twenty-two minutes and thirty seconds to go on this flight from hell. She pressed the buzzer again with a little more force than necessary. The bonus, remember the bonus...
The door between the cockpit and main cabin didn't open, and Danica felt a spurt of something elemental in the pit of her stomach. Instinctively she knew the door wasn't going to open. It wasn't her imagination. Something was wrong. She pasted a reassuring smile on her face for the passengers, and hot-footed it back to Angie in the galley.
"We're going to crash." Angie said it so flatly, so calmly, it took Danica a second to compute the words that she herself had been thinking. She strode over and touched her friends shoulder. A small pop was immediately followed by the sensation of the floor shimmying under their feet. Both women grabbed the countertop to keep their balance. Their eyes met.
In the cabin, the passengers shouted in alarm. The Presidents son started shrieking in terror.
A terrible calm came over Dani. Her weird way of reacting to trauma. The back of her neck tingled - a sure sign of impending doom. She'd had it the night Jon had staggered into their house bleeding like a sieve a year and eight days ago.
She'd had it that day in her lawyer's office when she'd signed the divorce papers.
"No, we are not crashing," she told Angie with more confidence than she felt. The more her friend panicked, the calmer Danica became. It was a gift. "Just turbulence." Wind shears were a bitch to fly through, requiring skill and attention from the cockpit crew. Which explained why the pilots hadn't responded and why, she swallowed as her stomach rushed to her throat, the plane suddenly lost about five thousand feet of altitude.
"Come on. Let's go and strap in the inmates." Just because there wasn't a cloud in the sky didn't mean the thermals weren't surging against the body of the aircraft. "Angie. Come on."
"It's a faulty rudder system," Angie said, barely moving her lips. She'd flown for Transair for thirty years. She could probably fly the aircraft herself. She grabbed Dani's arm in a white-knuckled grip. "I'm the one who's been stealing your M&M's. And I told Gracie how much you paid for those -"
Another popping sound -not nearly as happy as that of a champagne cork being released, rang through the cabin. This one louder and more ominous than the last. Dani's feet slid on the carpet as the nose of the craft dipped. Call button lights flashed on the panel on the bulkhead above the jump seats. Off. On. Off. On. Flicker. . .Shit. "We've got to go out there and calm the passengers, Ange. Now. Come on."
Danica tore through the drape and into the cabin where pandemonium reigned. Half the passengers were out of their seats. All the passengers were yelling, screaming like girls, or crying. Ha! Where was all that superior machismo now?
She unhooked the PA mic and spoke calmly and quietly until the hysteria subsided a little and they could hear her. She listened to her own voice, amazed at how cool and calm she sounded when she knew, absolutely, unequivocally knew, they were all about to die.
"Gentlemen, please. There's no need to panic. Everyone, take your seat." She motioned them to sit down. "All seats must be in their upright positions with tray tables up and locked. Please keep your seat belts firmly fastened. We're just experiencing a little air turbulence. Captain Marks assures us there is no danger."
And while she was asking herself rhetorical questions: where were Kent and Cisco, the other two flight attendants? She glanced back to check on her friend. Angie, white faced, but professional, was helping calm the passengers.
Holding onto seat backs to remain on her feet, Danica pulled herself, row by row against the downward pitch of the aircraft, toward the back of the plane.
"Please remain calm, and stay seated." She shouted without benefit of the mic. No one was listening. "The plane will level off shortly." By which time it would be too late for anyone to care. Damn it. I'm too young to die.
As urgent as her need to check on the aft attendants, the passengers had to come first. She checked seatbelts, and stowed tray tables as she went along the narrow aisle. All the while maintaining what she hoped was a serene smile.
The pain-in-the-ass kid, spiffed up in his too-adult, black suit to meet his new step-mother in Miami, huddled in his aisle seat, his face white, black eyes wide and terrified. Danica crouched in the aisle beside him and took his sweaty, sticky little hand between both of hers. "It's going to be alright, little one," she told the boy in Spanish.
He flung his arms around her neck in a strangle hold, then burst into hysterical tears as the nose of the plane dipped further, rocking Danica back. She grabbed his seat-arm in a white knuckled fist, supporting him with her other arm.
"It's okay. It's okay. It's okay," she lied in both English and Spanish to both of them. Neither she, nor the boy, believed it for a second. Instead of staying in his seat, he snapped at the buckle and practically climbed her torso as if shimmying up a tree.
"No," she tried to lift him back into his seat, but he was like a little monkey, wrapping himself around her as if attached with Velcro.
An incredibly loud BOOM reverberated through the cabin. The plane buckled and bounced, then did the aeronautic equivalent of the hula. Lights went out, plunging the cabin into daylight gloom. The overheads popped open, spewing coats, luggage and papers about the cabin like mobile flotsam.
Oh, shit, shit, shit. Hello? Anybody? Need a little Divine intervention here.
She and the boy rolled like tossed dice beneath and around the seats and the plane seemed to go end over end, tossing humans and baggage around like a salad. She buried the little boy's face against her chest, locking her arms around him as tightly as she could while they rolled back and forth in the aisle like a yo-yo in the hands of God.
She tried to protect him from projectiles, even though she knew; When they hit that ground, thirty thousand feet below, there'd be nothing left of any of them.
Her last cognizant thought before sheer terror overcame her was that she'd lied that night her husband had come home to bleed on her new peach carpet.
She'd never stopped loving Jon Raven.