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The man had been plagued by his son for over a year ... ever since the boy hit fifty-four inches and could meet the height requirements for the Cyclone. But Astroland in Brooklyn was over an hour away on the subway and there was always something depressing about Coney Island. Its sense of despair was as heavy as the cloying smell of funnel cakes and undercooked hot dogs. Time had passed the place by, but it struggled bravely on. The rusty steel framework of the defunct Parachute Jump stood guard over a park that included carousel horses too tired to do anything but dream of their past glory years. Coney Island ... once a fabled name to amusement seekers, now just a place where big kids went to buy drugs and little kids went to make their bones on the Cyclone, the one thing left on the strip that mattered.
You had to be fifty-four inches to ride the Cyclone because a kid that tall is supposed to have a strong enough grip to withstand the forces the Cyclone imposed. Since 1927 it had been tossing celebrities, politicians, criminals, and innocents around like so many sacks of flour. Charles Lindbergh once said that the thrill of the Cyclone even beat the thrill of flying. Its initial climb was almost nine stories high and then the track dropped at sixty degrees, pushing the cars at an incredible sixty miles an hour. For one minute and fifty seconds your heart stopped as your body slammed over three thousand feet of track, through six fan turns and nine shuddering drops. And then it was over and you could go back to school and tell your friends you had done the Cyclone. It hadn't changed in over seventy years, and now the kid desperately wanted it.
The man had promised in a moment of weakness, when his son was maybe forty-eight inches, and now it came back to haunt him. Haunt him, because even at fifty-four inches he wasn't going to let his firstborn climb into that thundering train by himself. And a gut wrenching was not his idea of adult entertainment either. But a promise was a promise, and so on that fine morning the man and his son found themselves on line for an experience for which his son had been waiting years.
It was the kind of day that inspires family outings. Maybe seventy people were in line, all jabbering with excited anticipation. The boy too, looking up above him at the miles of wooden framing that creaked and groaned as the Cyclone's cars rushed by, made silly comments to relieve his nervousness. The man was thinking only about how long it would take and telling himself never again to be so foolish with his promises.
The line moved fairly quickly, and it soon came to be their turn. But for the last seat in the train. This had been hotly discussed by the boy on the subway out.
"Not the last seat," he had insisted, "everyone's ahead of you. The best seat is the first one. If we could get that ..."
And now it was a possibility. To be in the first seat was to be on your own magic carpet, swooping by yourself, dangling dangerously alone over every drop.
"We'll wait," the man said to the attendant.
The gatekeeper nodded and asked the people behind them in line but they were a family of four and wanted to stay together. So he just closed the gate, locked the safety bars, and released the brake.
The train slowly rolled down the slight incline and then caught on the lift chain that pulled the car up the eighty-five-foot incline. The man and his son watched it slowly rise, waiting for the next train to pull up for them. They could hear the metallic clanking of the chain dogs as they scraped over the safety ratchets, the sound of the connecting joints between the cars as the alignments shifted, the anticipatory screams of the people about to be Cycloned. Their train now pulled up and the man and boy excitedly slid into the first seat. The boy's eyes said it all: heaven. They watched as the train ahead of them continued to rise. And then they heard a noise unlike any other, a tearing sound, and then a loud bang. It was too loud for a shot, more like a steel beam collapsing.
Other people had heard the sound too and were looking in the direction from which it had come. Up the track, where the car ahead of them was now approaching the crest of the hill. Except now it wasn't moving forward; it was doing a crazy little dance maybe six feet from the top. For a second or two it would slowly slide backward, down toward the waiting car with the man and boy until something underneath caught and started bringing it back up. And then after a few feet the metallic tearing noise would screech again and another loud report would ring out and the car would slide backward again. The screams from the cars were now for real because there was no mistaking what was happening. Something horribly wrong was taking place underneath the train. The cable was still operating, but it was not finding much to hook onto.
The man recognized in an instant the danger they were in and pushed his son toward the platform. At that moment the train above them started rolling backward and kept going. Slowly at first, then faster as the angle increased, it made its way in reverse. The man pushed, then shoved, and finally just lifted and threw his son out of the car. He dived after him as the other people behind him tried to get out also.
When the damaged train was halfway down something did grab underneath for less than a second, only long enough to be sheared off in another frightful ripping sound. But for an instant it slowed the falling train to a near standstill. In that brief moment when the safety ratchet had held, a man from one of the cars jumped, flailing frantically at the wooden guardrail alongside the slanting track. But he couldn't hold his grip and tumbled down the wooden structure, keeping pace with the now plummeting train.
The attendant at the gate acted quickly. He released the brake and once again, the waiting train at the station slid slowly toward the lift cable. There were still three or four struggling people in it, but his thought was to have the crash away from the platform with its milling throngs. The two trains headed toward each other, one going slowly for the bottom of the cable and the other doing maybe fifty miles an hour in reverse. When they hit, the noise was deafening. The man took one look and just threw his arms around his son, hugging him tight. The compartment they had been sitting in no longer existed. It was pushed like a tight accordion into the three behind it in a space no bigger than a room divider. They would find out later that two people had died and several had been hospitalized, but for the moment, in their numbness, all they could do was hold each other.CHAPTER 2
Dr. Samuel Garvey was at his desk in the research facility at the Angelus Corporation's Park in Freemont, Texas. He was in the middle of a G-force calculation for the Jumper's blue section fifth drop when the call came in. The first four drops were within the acceptable range of under six Gs but drop number five had such a tight radius that Garvey knew it would be a problem. He was just about to plug in the weight factor when Jason Roper appeared over his screen and pointed to the phone.
"Sounds official. You better take it."
Garvey raised an eyebrow. "Official?"
"Someone in Washington. National Transportation Safety Board."
"Get a number. I'll call him back."
Jason Roper didn't move. He was Garvey's younger assistant. Hip, attractive, smart. The best ever, but with an attitude. The young man played for a moment with the little earring poking out from under his curly hair.
"She sounds cute. I can do the calculation."
"Yeah, I think you'd enjoy running the G force up to ten."
"Hell, why stop there? Blackout's at around ten nine. Besides, I thought you trusted me, Sam."
"I don't trust anybody with the Jumper." He leaned over to his right, reached over the crutch that was leaning against the desk, and lifted the phone. "Garvey here."
"Dr. Garvey, this is Rachael White. NTSB. Have you got a minute?"
Garvey sighed heavily and put his computer into pause mode. He ran a hand through his shock of prematurely white hair.
"Sure. Do I know you?"
"No, but I know you. At least I've been to some of your lectures. When you were up in Boston. Back here there are not many people with your reputation."
"What can I do for you, Ms. White? I'm pretty busy."
"I'd like you to come to New York. We'll arrange it. We have a situation here. We need some expert advice."
"I'm afraid that's out of the question. I have a deadline on the project I'm working on—"
"Two people are dead. We need you, Dr. Garvey. Whatever your project is, I think it can wait for twenty-four hours."
Garvey grimaced and looked down at his computer. Impulsively he flicked the switch and watched it go blank.
"I have a young daughter. I don't know if I can arrange for a sitter for overnight."
"I can send someone from our staff."
"Thanks, but it's better if I get someone Sarah knows." He looked over at Jason "Where will I meet you, Ms. White?"
"Coney Island. I'll send a plane for you."CHAPTER 3
Jason looked amused.
"She likes what at bedtime?"
"Ogden Nash. You know, 'The cow is of the bovine ilk: one end is moo, the other milk.'"
"I thought she was only five."
"You'd prefer she'd be like all the other preadolescents being nursed on TV spin-off characters?" Garvey scowled. "Personally I've always thought Miss Piggy should get mugged by the Grinch. No, it's Nash or nothing if you want to get her to sleep before nine." Garvey put a hand on the younger man's shoulder. "I really do appreciate this, Jason. They seem to think it's important up in Washington."
"Hey, Sarah and I get along just fine. Remember the time we all went to the car races?"
"Sarah does. She still calls it the 'sock-cars.' For one night you'll be okay. At eight in the morning, Rosita comes in to get her ready for school and then clean up the dishes. If you pick her up at school at three, I'll be back soon after."
Jason smiled awkwardly. "Urn, you want to brief me about what I say about Fran? I mean, if she asks."
Garvey hobbled to the door, the crutch attached to his right forearm neatly missing all the children's toys strewn across the floor. "If she asks about anything it will be about heaven. And you've got carte blanche to make it as extravagant as you want. Think Spielberg doing a remake of Stairway to Heaven. All special effects; radiant lights, gauzy clouds ... you'll be great."
"I think I can handle it, Sam. I'm strong on fable."
"Yeah, well, save your best stuff for the revised Jumper timetable. We'll have to hand one in next week. And if Dominici asks where I went, tell him research. It's a word CEOs respect."CHAPTER 4
Mario Dominici was a man who had precious little respect for anything or anyone, especially if it didn't contribute to his bottom line. He was a man of great calculation and precision, a man who sought relaxation from his corporate wheeling and dealing in the painstaking restoration of classic cars. His oversized garage at home already had, in mint condition, a cherry-red 1935 Mercedes Benz 500K Special Roadster and a canary yellow 1937 Cord 812 Sportsman—all in working order. He brought to his corporate career the same determination that enabled him to find and install the original parts to some very obscure engines.
He always followed a policy of taking no prisoners, a policy that had gotten him to the boardroom of the Angelus Corporation, the multimillion-dollar entertainment company. Single-mindedness rather than subtlety was his strong suit. After revamping Bally's housecleaning computer system in Atlantic City so that the hotel could fire eighteen permanent employees, he looked at inventory control and came up with the wonderful idea of consignment. After that suppliersbilled the hotel not on shipment, but on use, thus saving the hotel thousands of dollars on finance charges.
It is not clear whether it was single-mindedness that steered Mario into marrying Luisa D'Onofrio, the daughter of Tony De-O, owner of Las Vegas's biggest food service business. What is clear is that it was a career-enhancing move akin to Lana Turner's thirst-quenching dip into Schwab's. Within a year Dominici was living in Nevada and running the Grecian Forum, a thousand-room hotel and casino. When that was bought out by the Angelus Corporation in 1980, Dominici went along for the ride. It was a ride that would wind up with Dominici in the saddle and everyone else playing stable boy. And then he gazed on Texas.
The land outside Freemont was mostly flat with only an occasional hill to break the monotony. One hundred and fifty years earlier it had been a stretch of the old Chisolm Trail, one the steer runners liked because there were few dangers for the cattle. Over the years titles to the property changed, but the land remained the same; flat, unwatered, dusty, and cheap. Which was why, in 1989, under Dominici, the Angelus Corporation purchased a tract of Freemont land big enough to accommodate what would become one of the Southwest's largest amusement parks: Angel City.
Mario had seen all the figures. Demographics showed that there was a dead pocket of destination amusement centers precisely in that part of the Southwest. No more than four hours from both eastern New Mexico and central Texas, the potential of a large market existed for the kind of family entertainment that Astroworld was providing in the Houston area.
And so, Angel City opened in 1992 with sixty-five rides, eight restaurants, a fifty-acre parking lot, two aerial tramways, and a swimming pool complex called Tsunami Bay. The first year it was in operation it made twenty-seven million pretax dollars and sent the common stock of Angelus Corporation soaring from 4 to 22 on the NASDAQ exchange.
Angel City rose over the plateau like some alien encampment, visible from nearly fifteen miles away. It was all odd angles and tutti-frutti colors. It was a city unto itself with a medical building, its own security force, a daycare center for employee children, a six-story office building for Angelus's new headquarters, and, since it was committed to a program of one major new ride each year, a full engineering research facility. Since the opening, five new rides had been built, none of them nearly as exciting as what the engineers were working on now ... a forty-million-dollar project called the Jumper.
Forty million was a huge number to dump into one project. But projections showed that revenues were slowing down and would turn flat in two years. Seventy-five-channel satellite television, the Internet, and cheap foreign travel were only a few of the things thinning out the flow of bodies to Angel City. Dominici decided that they needed something spectacular to reverse the trend. He envisioned a ride so incredible that it would become the benchmark for amusement parks everywhere. So in April of 1998 he green-lighted the project and called Dr. Samuel Garvey. Two months later the Jumper was on paper. When word got out about the plan, it was received with much skepticism. Getting it to work would be as complex as a shuttle launch, with layers of interconnecting, interdependent systems. But if it worked it would be just what Dominici wanted ... a sensation.
Excerpted from Jumper by Richard Barth. Copyright © 2000 Richard Barth. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted December 9, 2008
When Coney Island¿s Cyclone roller coaster crashed killing two and injuring several others, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) led the accident investigation. An expert on plane and train disasters, the NTSB Agent Rachel White asks Dr. Samuel Garvey, the recognized expert on roller coasters, to assist her with the inquiry. Sam flies from Texas to NYC to look at the crash site. He concludes someone deliberately caused the Cyclone crash and that individual is an expert. Rachel shows him the note left behind by Periclymenus. <P>Sam and Rachel review recent roller coaster accidents. They realize a serial killer is at large. More deadly incidents soon follow with Sam being a prime suspect. Still, Sam completes his masterpiece, Jumper even as he wonders how Periclymenus will try to sabotage his beautiful baby. Sam knows this is where the ride will end for the killer or him. <P> JUMPER is an exciting thriller that reads just like the roller coaster rides that co-star with Sam and Rachel. The exhilarating story line is filled with non-stop action. The lead protagonists are an interesting duo and Sam¿s daughter humanizes the hero. Though the villains¿ motives seem weak, Richard Barth¿s novel is well worth the ride. <P>Harriet Klausner
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Posted March 27, 2013
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