The Mile High Abduction









    Barbara Anderson gripped the armrests tightly as the plane reached take-off velocity. She hated flying. She currently felt like she was trapped in a tin can rocketing forward at two hundred miles per hour. When the vehicle pointed to the sky and began its sharp ascent she closed her eyes and pictured herself sitting at home with a glass of wine. Lift off and landings were the worst.

    "God, why do I have to spend Spring Break in New York?" Jessie huffed, completely ignoring the attendant's warnings and texting on her brand new phone.

     "We have to be there for your father!" Barbara sighed, repeating an argument she'd had with her daughter countless times.

    "But Mel invited me to her Miami Condo. Why do I have to go to this damn trial?"

    "The entire country will be watching your father give evidence and we have to support him. You can go when it's over!"

    Jessie responded with a frustrated huff, running one hand through her sandy blonde hair and resting the other on her nylon clad legs. She looked just like any other nineteen year old dressed in denim minishorts, dark tights, red converse shoes and an open pink hoodie over a sky blue tanktop. But she was one of the richest heiresses in the country, and when she wasn't scraping her pass grades at Brown she was busy spending her parent's multi-million dollar fortune.

     Barbara was hardly a pampered housewife. She was the chief editor of Trend magazine, the biggest selling fashion monthly on the American west coast. Add to that was the vast fortune acquired by her husband as one LA's premier investment bankers. They were a golden couple, and despite work meaning they didn't spend much time together they still loved each other very deeply.

    Barbara looked at herself in her pocket mirror to take her mind off her nerves. She was very good looking for a woman in her early fifties, her shoulder length hair dyed a light blonde, her skin tanned and unwrinkled due to her expensive skin treatments. She wore a crisp dark skirt suit with tan stockings, black high heels and a diamond necklace.

    They were travelling from LAX to JFK airport in their extremely luxurious private jet. The seats were leather, each with their own extendable media screen. There was room only for fourteen passengers, and five were in use. Sitting behind Barbara was her PA Keira, an Asian-American in her thirties who managed Barbara's life with incredible efficiency. Also was her husband's colleague Nigel, a man her age with thick glasses and a balding head. Lastly their chief of security Barney, a tall and muscular man dressed in an impeccable dark suit and still wearing his sunglasses despite the setting sun bathing sky in a gentle orange aura.

    They were travelling to what the press were calling the fraud trial of the decade. The defendant was Julian Baines, Chief Executive of the bank for which Barbara's husband worked. He'd been arrested on suspicion of siphoning millions dollars' worth of investment from high paying businessman into offshore accounts, claiming he was putting it into a hedge fund that would double their money. A boardroom rebellion spearheaded by her husband had allowed the police to make their arrest. His testimony would spell life imprisonment for the corrupt executive.
    The plane reached cruising altitude and the seatbelt sign was turned off. Keira activated her tablet device and displayed the front page spread for next month. "Jenna just needs you to give the go ahead," the dark haired PA explained to Barbara, dressed in a grey trouser suit and dark blouse with black ankle boots.

    Nigel got to his feet and smiled at Barbara, knowing all about her fear of flying. "Don't look so nervous. Statistically you're more likely to win the lottery then die in a plane crash."

    "Yeah when we need to win the lottery that knowledge will come in real handy," Jessie snapped, trying to shut him up.

    But Nigel was used to her sharp, teenage tongue, and gave a merry chuckle. "I just need to use the facilities."

    Keira waited until he locked the restroom door, then whispered to Barbara, "What the hell is his problem? He's been in a weird mood for weeks."

     But he wasn't the only one in a weird mood, and neither was flying the reason Barbara was on edge. She hadn't told Jessie or Keira of the phone calls her husband had received, threatening terrible things if he testified. They continued as normal, not disclosing their concerns to anyone. She could only hope that these people were bluffing, but they both knew Julian Baines was a powerful man backed into a corner, making him a dangerous prospect.

    "Drink Madam?"

     Barbara nearly jumped as the attendant appeared beside her seat. "Who are you?" she asked bluntly when she saw the woman's face.

    It wasn't the face of April, the blonde haired woman who usually served on their plane. Instead it was a pale skinned woman in her late twenties. Her coppery red hair tumbled down the side of her pretty face in waves, originating underneath the round hat that she wore as part of her uniform, completed by a navy blue pinstripe jacket over a white blouse with matching knee length skirt, dark stockings, dark one inch heel pumps and a red cravat around her neck.

    The attendant gave a smile which revealed her dazzlingly white teeth as she replied in a textbook New Orleans accent, "I'm standin' in for April. Somethin' real unexpected came up for her. I'm her friend May!"

     Jessie looked up from her phone and raised her eyebrow. "April and May?" she asked doubtfully.

    "I know, amazin' coincidence right?" May laughed. "So what will it be?"

     "I'll have a beer," Jessie grunted.

     "Are you twenty one sweetie?" May asked with impeccable politeness.

     "Oh just give her the goddam…" Barbara snapped, before she reeled her outburst back in. "Sorry, sorry, I'm a little on edge. Please give my daughter her drink!"

    "Sure thing madam," May smiled as if nothing untoward had been said. "And for you?"

     "A white wine spritzer please!" May enthusiastically took the orders of Keira and Barney before she retreated to the preparation area. During this moment Barbara hissed at Barney, "Did you check her background?"

     "She's clean, pretty much impeccable actually," Barney grunted with a shrug.

     His words did little to alleviate his bosses concerns. Given the circumstances, the sudden change to her flight crew did little to alleviate her nerves. She took a deep gulp of her drink when it arrived, desperate for this trial to be over with.

     Once the drinks were distributed May walked back down the aisle, slapping the overhead storage compartment over her head as she went. She returned to the preparation area and put on some filter coffee. As it brewed she pulled out her phone from her inside pocket and typed the message, 'Take off uneventful, will report if situation changes.'

    She poured the coffee into two flasks and carried them to the cabin door. She entered the code into the keypad which unlocked the door, and as she stepped into the cramped cabin she announced, "Coffee up boys!"

    "Oh you angel!" exclaimed the pilot, Captain Phil McPherson. He was in his sixties and was fast approaching retirement. But to make a bit more cash for his fast approaching twilight years he'd become Barbara and Jake Anderson's private pilot. He eagerly took a sip of the steaming beverage, and smacked his lips surrounded by a bristly white beard.

     "You're welcome," May smiled. She then asked the co-pilot, "Any for you hun?"

     "I'm good thanks," replied co-pilot Jason, an African-American born and raised in Chicago. He too was a last minute addition to the crew: the usual co-pilot suddenly taken ill with food poisoning.

    After another hearty sip Phil said, "So guessing April told you that I like my coffee round about now?"

    "Yeah she made sure to tell me her routine before I got here."

     "What happened to her anyway?"

     "She just got a lil' tied up in other people's business is all," May smiled.
     Jason checked the instruments and a confused look formed on his face. "Can I ask why we're following this course?"
    "Just a quick diversion to avoid some storms in the Nevada area," was the pilots reply.

   "But there were no reports of storms in that region. Maybe we should consider changing…"
     Out of nowhere Phil suddenly withdrew a penknife from his pocket, flicked it open and outstretching his hand he pointed the blade at Jason's neck. As the co-pilots hands were immediately flung into the air he said firmly, "We will be keeping this heading whatever happens!"

    "What the hell is this? Why do you have a knife?" Jason gasped, hardly daring to breathe in case it meant his body touched the blade.

    "Because I have no choice," Phil replied unemotionally, his kindly jovial manner disappearing in an instant. "They made me an offer I couldn't refuse. If you don't do anything stupid you'll get out of this alive."  

     But suddenly a pair of hands encased the wrist in which Phil was holding the knife, and gave it a sharp twist. He gasped in pain and dropped his weapon, before his attacker pulled his arm back and created incredible pressure on his elbow. "You aren't the only one with a hidden agenda fella!" May snarled, keeping Phil's arm in a tight lock.

    "Neither are you my dear!" said a voice from behind her, as May felt the cold steel blade of another, larger knife pressed against the back of her head.

    "Look, I can get a flight to Miami at six tomorrow."

     "Damn it Jessie you are staying in New York," Barbara barked, her nerves now officially shot. "And stop using your wifi during flight!"

     Jessie gave a frustrated moan. "Mom this is so pointless. What am I going to do in the courtroom other than sit there completely HOLY SHIT!"

    "What the hell, Nigel?" Barbara yelled at the same time Nigel emerged from the cockpit with his arm draped around May's neck. The red headed attendant had several strips of black coloured tape plastered over her lips, her hands bound behind her back with the same material. She grunted furiously but didn't struggle too much given the large hunting blade in Nigel's free hand.

    Keira got to her feet and shouted, "Let the girl go now!"

    "Sorry, no can do!" Nigel exclaimed over May's muffled growls. "This lady is a witness in a very high profile kidnapping!"

    "Who's been kidnapped?" Jessie gasped in confusion.

     With a sinister smirk Nigel replied, "You have!"

    Barbara turned to her head of security and bellowed, "Are you just going to sit there and do nothing?"

    His expression not changing Barney reclined in his seat. "That's exactly what I'm gonna do!"

    Only then did Barbara see how much she had been betrayed. They were caught in a deep running and intricate plot run by people whom she and her husband had trusted implicitly. Her realisation was confirmed when Nigel guffawed, "Barney's been a great source of information. It's largely thanks to him Julian and I have been able to organise this whole scheme."

    "Damn it Barney, why did you do it?" demanded an emotional Barbara.

    Barney opened the bag tucked under his seat and from it withdrew a roll of black tape. "Simple. He pays more than you do!"

    "All of you stay in your seats!" Nigel ordered as he dumped May into the nearest empty chair. He then withdrew his roll of dark tape, and after tearing a strand loose knelt at her feet. May didn't make his job easy, kicking her feet vigorously until  Nigel made a successful grab, brought them together and then proceeded taping them up. He wound all the way up her calves with the sticky material, and when he was finished all May could do was uselessly twist her feet up and down.

    Nigel smirked as he then buckled her seatbelt about her waist. "Well you did tell me to keep it on at all times," he chuckled darkly.

    "Ffffkkkk yyyymmmmm!" May snarled, the dainty attitude she'd previously held now completely absent.

     Meanwhile Barney had got out of his seat, and crossed the aisle to where Keira was seated. He instructed her to put her hands on the armrests, and after she unwillingly complied he wrapped the tape about her wrists and forearms fixing them against the seat. At the same time Nigel did the same to Barbara. The millionaire editor could only watch as the sleeves of her expensive jacket was trapped between the armrests and the tape layer. She cast her eyes over to Jessie and saw her daughter's bottom lip trembling. "Mom what is going on here?" she asked in a confused, strained voice.

      "Just keep calm Jessie," her mother insisted as Nigel knelt down to tape her ankles. "Nigel won't harm us. He needs us to ensure that your father doesn't implicate him."

    "Sharp as ever Barbara!" Nigel told her as he pulled more tape loose.

    As she felt the tape sticking to the nylon around her ankles Barbara added, "And I suppose you're responsible for all those phone calls?"

     Nigel's expression didn't change as he made the final few circuits about Barbara's legs. "Well if you'd listened to my warnings then I wouldn't have to resort to such extreme measures now would I?" When Barbara was securely bound into her seat, he moved across to Jessie and sneered, "Hands on the armrests sweetheart!"

     Despite complying with his demands Jessie pleaded, "You don't have to do this. I'll behave I swear!"

    Nigel gave a loud exclamation of laughter as he secured her left wrist to the armrest. "You, behave? Little miss stuck up, 'why can't I go to Miami mommy?' I haven't known you to behave once ever!"

     "Given you're tying her up you have no right to speak to Jessie like that!" yelled Keira from the row behind, her hands and feet now bound with Barney stood beside her pulling the cases off the small inflight pillows.

     Once Jessie's hands were fixed to the armrests Nigel knelt down and started to tape her feet, just starting above her converse shoes. Jessie gave a loud sniff as her face flushed red. "Mom please, you have to do something!" she pleaded.

     "It'll be ok Jessie," Barbara replied. "Your dad won't let anything happen to us."

     With Jessie's legs now firmly fixed together Nigel stood up, and outstretched his hand as Barney handed him over one of the pillowcases he'd removed. Nigel scrunched it into a little ball, then moved over to Jessie. "Oh I've waited a long time to do this!" he sneered as he held the material to her lips.

     "What the, no, no, no you can't please I'mmmmmggggg nnnnmmmm!" Jessie's protests were silenced as Nigel crammed the material into her mouth.

    Barbara watched this in stunned silence, while Keira began tugging against her tape bonds with everything she had. "What the hell is the point of gagging her when we're 30,000 feet abovvvvvvvv nnnnnmmm mmmmm ggggddd!" This time Keira's objections were stifled as Barney, with professional swiftness, stuffed her mouth with a rolled up pillowcase. She and Jessie continued to grunt and groan while their captors peeled off strip after strip of tape, and eagerly slapped them over the women's mouths.

    As he worked Nigel answered Keira's question. "Well I'm gagging you partly so I don't have to listen to your irritating voices. But mostly it's to give Jake the shock of his life when we voice chat him in a few minutes."

    Barbara felt her heart begin to ice over as she realised just how helpless she was, tied up and trapped in the sky. It was a desperate situation they were in, and what's more it would put her husband in an equally dangerous dilemma.

    After what must have been the sixth layer of tape plastered over Jessie's lips Nigel smoothed the gag over, then came back over to Barbara, ominously clutching another scrunched up pillowcase. Trying to make him see reason she said, "Come on Nigel think about this. Whatever trouble you're in holding us prisoner will only make it ten times worse. You aren't an idiot!"

     "No I'm not," Nigel replied as he forced Barbara's lips open and rammed in the cloth. "But if your hubbie testifies it will be the end of my life. This is the last option I have remaining."

     "Nnnnggggllll ppplllsss!" Barbara protested as he stuck the first strip of tape over her lips, followed by another, and another.

    Once six in total were applied, he stood up and gazed triumphantly over the four bucking and grunting women. "You know I think I may have set a new standard," he chortled as much to himself as to them. "The first to successfully complete a mile high abduction."

     "Yyyyynnnn ssssccccnnnn llllllmmmm sssss ggggnnn!" May snarled while staring daggers at him, making sure his eyes were fixed on her face and not her jiggling bound hands.

      From the bag by his seat Barney then withdrew a laptop. "The sooner we call Jake the better," the burly security guard suggested, handing it over.

     Nigel moved his finger over the touchpad, clicking on the webchat icon. "Well at least he's online. Would have been very awkward if he'd set his status to busy." He then pressed the call button, and the sound of a dialling phone filled the humming cabin.

    It didn't take long for Jacob Anderson to answer the call. "Nigel, what are you calling for? You should be in the air by now!" spoke his deep, authoritative voice.
    "Sorry to be a bother Jake. It's just that your wife has something she desperately wants to say to you." And with that he spun the laptop around.

    "JJJJJKKKKK NNNGGGGLLL DDDD TTTHHHSSS. SSSSSTTTTPPP HHHMMM!" she cried through her gagged mouth when she saw her husband's astounded face on the computer screen.
    "Barb what the hell? What's going on up there?"

    "Oh, hang on bub, your daughter wants a word too!"

    "DDDDDDD HHHHHLLLPPP MMMMM PPPLLLSSS!" Jessie screamed, tugging on the armrests and stamping her feet desperately on the cabin floor.

      "JESSIE. Sweetheart are you alright?" Jake spluttered as Nigel turned the laptop so he could now see his tied up daughter.

     "I think you know what you have to do to make sure your family stay safe," Nigel informed him bluntly.

    There was a brief pause as Jake processed these revelations, before he exclaimed, "Shit not you too Nigel?"

      "I did try to warn you!" Nigel told him, shaking his head. "I tried telling you not to go sticking your nose into this business. I was in on Julian's scheme from the beginning, and it's made me millions. But if he goes down then he'll spill the beans, and I can't let that happen!"

    "Goddammit is money that important to you?"

    "This is as much about self-preservation. This scheme runs right to the top of Wall Street. More powerful men than Julian have a stake in it, and they will go to any lengths to keep themselves out of jail. If I can't dissuade you from giving evidence then it's my neck on line as far as their concerned."

    "And you're willing to put my family's lives in danger because of this?"

    "If you don't give evidence then we'll land at an undisclosed location and drop them off. But if you do, then I'll blow the fuel lines which will cause the plane to crash, and it will look like a total accident."

     "With you in it!"    

     "There is a parachute here with my name on it, and I'll bail out long before the plane makes an unscheduled landing in the Rockies. Whatever happens I've made plans to retire to a nice tropical location where no-one will ever find me, certainly not you."

      "God damn Nigel we're friends. Please don't hurt my family, it doesn't have to…"

      "Sorry, I just realised we shouldn't be using the internet inflight!" Nigel grinned at Jakes face on the screen. Giving the laptop one last scan about the cabin he said, "Bid adieu to your family Jake!"

    "Nnnnmmmm pppllsss lssssttttnnn ttttmmm hhhmm!" Barbara and Jessie chorused as they struggled at the sight of Jakes stoic face.

    He blew them a kiss and said, "It's ok girls, everything will be alright, I'll make sure…" At that point Nigel slammed the laptop shut, ending the conversation.  

    "Well best get comfortable, we've a long flight ahead. Shame I can't provide much in the way of in-flight entertainment," Nigel told his quartet of captives.

     "Yyyyllll nnvvvvrrr ssccccdddd!" Keira growled as Barney carried the laptop to the nearest overhead compartment, the one May had slapped earlier.

    "Oh give it a rest Keira!" Nigel laughed. "Surely you must realise that there's no escape. And don't expect anyone to stage a daring rescue."

    Nigel's cockiness came back to haunt him immediately as Barney opened the overhead compartment and saw a man hiding inside of it.

     This man smiled at the stunned security guard and remarked coolly in an Italian accent, "You know how they say to take care when opening overhead compartments. Well this is why." And he promptly kicked Barney in the face,     

    As Barney staggered back the man rolled out of the compartment and landed on his knees. He was a tall and muscular man with north Mediterranean complexion and dark hair, dressed in a padded, grey coloured hoodie with the hood pulled over his head. Flexing his fingers the man drew himself up to his full height. Nigel, Barney and the women all gazed at this stowaway in astonishment. Apart from May, who merely winked at him.

     "Who in God's name are you?" Nigel barked.

     "Your reckoning!" the man replied simply.

     Barney recovered from the stowaway's initial assault, leapt to his feet and charged down the aisle with an enraged roar. He swung a punch which the hooded man dodged, then took a wide roundhouse which was easily blocked. Then moving like a grey lightning bolt the stowaway drove his fist against Barney's stomach with a well-practiced technique designed to wind him. As the security guard doubled over his attacker then thrust the palm of his hand against Barney's chest, pushing him over onto his back.

    Hearing a series of muffled cries the man looked up to see Nigel had grabbed the nearest available hostage to use as a human shield. He wrapped his arm around the neck of May with the knife in his hand, and peering over her shoulder he announced, "Not a step closer."

    Barbara gazed up at her would be hooded rescuer, and couldn't have predicted that he would give a knowing smirk and remark casually, "For such a powerful businessman you sure are unobservant."

    "Which means what?" Nigel spat.

    "It means you haven't noticed that your hostage has freed her hands," the man winked.

     Before Nigel reacted suddenly May had elbowed him in the stomach, at the same moment her liberated hand grabbed his and twisted the knife out of it with a powerful wrench. Even as Nigel howled in pain May, with her feet still encased in tape, backed her body against his, grabbed his hand and pulled him over her shoulder. He gave a surprised yelp as he landed on his back in the centre aisle, only able to gaze up as the redheaded attendant peeled away her tapegag.

     Walking over the immobile body of Barney the Italian smiled and remarked, "That's a good look for you Bryony. You should dress as a flight attendant more often."

    The tape now removed from her lips and the napkin stuffed in her mouth spat out, May spoke. But Barbara, Keira and Jessie let their eyes widen in astonishment as her textbook New Orleans accent completely vanished, instead replaced by a rich, aristocratic English one. "I thought you were going to say I looked good bound and gagged with tape for a second," she drawled with a raised eyebrow.

    "Well if you're into that kind of stuff," chuckled the Italian.

     "Oh be quiet Adriano," she retorted, though with a tone that indicated that she was enjoying the banter, almost like they were flirting.

     But their moment of enjoyment was cut short when they failed to notice Nigel reach into his jacket for his phone, and pressed a button. Suddenly there were jarring clunks from outside the cabin, and the entire plane shook violently. Barbara and Jessie screamed through their tapegags as the sound of the engines changed from a dull hum to a high pitched whine.

    With an expression of utter fury Adriano grabbed Nigel by the lapels of his jacket and hauled his head up so they were face to face. "What have you done?" he growled ferociously.

    "Self-preservation," Nigel sneered. "If I'm going down, then I'm taking you all with me!" Adriano took a long and lingering look at the corrupt businessman's smirk, then threw a sharp punch to his face, knocking him out cold.

    "Bryony, untie the women and prepare for landing," Adriano announced brusquely as he got to his feet, even as the cabin began to slope sharply.

      "LLLLNNNDDDDNNNN!!!" Barbara exclaimed in horror as the red headed attendant produced a hidden blade from under her sleeve, which she'd used to free her hands. As she came over and used this blade to cut free her left wrist from the armrest, Barbara instead could only watch as Adriano ran to the cockpit, punched in the entry code and ran inside.

    Adriano was greeted by the sight of Jason, the co-pilot, frantically flipping switches while keeping a firm hand on the wheel. "The fuel lines have been cut," he explained. "We've got about ten minutes of flight time left, and there isn't an airport we can make in that time."

    "Can you land?" Adriano asked.

     His eyes only on the flashing and beeping dials Jason replied, "An emergency landing in these mountains will be damned tricky. Even if I did have the help of my pilot."

     Adriano then looked at the captain. Phil stared through the window with sad eyes, gazing at the mountains bathed an ominous blood red from the setting sun. "Are you just going to sit there and do nothing?" Adriano bellowed.

     "What's the point?" Phil sighed. "I'm already dead."

     "We can protect you!"

     Phil scoffed at his suggestion. "From terminal lung cancer? Ironic right, given I never smoked a cigarette in my life? At least if this plane goes down they give my wife enough money to retire on. There's no way she could survive on a pilots pension." Adriano opened his mouth to try and reason with him, but he could sense that he was pleading with a man who had already accepted his fate.

    Then Jason looked through the cockpit and saw a sight that took his breath away. Suddenly peeping through the Rockies appeared a landmark that resembled a bright white lake, still and unmoving. The sun reflected off its flat surface like the lights of a runway, inviting and filled with hope. It was the Bonneville Salt Flats, the ancient dried up lake which was home to countless land speed record attempts. But now, it could well be their salvation. He just needed to convince Phil to help guide the limping plane towards it.

    "Listen Phil, I know how desperate things must feel," Jason explained. "Once I was trapped in a hell from which there seemed no escape. But I was presented with an opportunity, and I had to make a choice between doing what was easy and doing what was right. There are three innocent women in that cabin. Do you want to be a man who died having done what was easy, or died having done what was right?"

    Phil had also seen the salt flats, and he too had realised there was a flicker of hope. He closed his tired eyes, allowing a small tear to trickle down his wrinkled cheek. He knew what he had to do.

    "Emergency landing procedures Jason," he said brusquely, taking the wheel. "Lower landing gear and hold her steady!"

    Jason nodded gratefully, before flicking the relevant switch. He activated the intercom to alert those in the plane over what was happening. "We are making an emergency landing. Return to your seats, fasten your seatbelts and assume the brace positions."

     Back in the cabin Barbara did her best to keep her fear under control, her hands trembling as she fumbled with her seatbelt. It was like a living nightmare, first tied up and held hostage, and now about to experience the one thing she'd feared most her whole life, an emergency plane landing. But while her body was shaking she was far from paralysed. Years of working under extreme pressure was helping her to keep her composure. She had to keep calm for the sake of Jessie, who was whimpering in terror as she clutched the armrests as though her hands were stuck to them.

    Barbara held out her hand across the aisle, and Jessie took it without hesitation. "You can go to Miami when this is all over," she said as the plane lurched towards the ground.

     Jessie smiled at her mum even as a tear trickled down her cheek, "I love you mum, I'm sorry for being such a brat."

     "I love you too, and you have nothing to ever apologise for," Barbara replied.

     Behind her Keira watched as Bryony hauled the inert body of Neil into a seat and strapped him in, having already done the same to Barney. "I'd have just left there," she said with great disdain.

    "Personally I'd rather not be hit by his flabby body bouncing about the cabin when we land," Bryony retorted as she fell into the seat behind Keira and fixed in her seatbelt about her waist.

     Keira glared at her, condensing all her fears over the upcoming landing into an outburst at this mysterious attendant. "Who the hell are you?"

    "A member of an organisation that has balanced the scales of justice for millennia."

    "And that Italian?"

   "If anyone is capable of saving our lives, it will be him."

    Suddenly the plane gave a violent tilt to the right as the pilots tried to avoid the nearby mountains. The warning lights all turned on and everyone in the cabin who wasn't unconscious adopted the brace position. Barbara peered through her hands out the window and saw they were level with the mountaintops, flying through a valley. She imagined the planes wheels scraping the scrubland, skipping off the exposed rocks. She stifled a cry as the plane rocked from side to side, the engines whining as they struggled to bring the craft in.

    Then out of nowhere they hit the ground, bouncing roughly off a smooth surface with a crash. A cloud of white coloured dust flew up and covered the windows, seriously limiting visibility. But the plane lurched along the ground, the nature of the landing meaning it struggled to stay in a straight line. The salt offered much more friction than tarmac, and the wheels struggled to cope as the plane slowed faster than usual. The momentum caused the plane to swerve violently to the left, the wing dipping and at one point scraping the salty earth. The cabin rattled and vibrated, making Jessie cry out in fear and Barbara dig her fingers into her head.

     But after what seemed an eternity the plane ground to a halt, sitting on the ancient dried up lake surrounded by a billowing cloud of dust. The sick engines gave one last desperate cough before they wound down and fell silent. The women in the seats looked up and stared at each other in astonishment, the relief they were alive and unharmed almost palpable.

    The door to the cockpit was hauled open, and out stepped a very relieved Adriano. The stress of that landing had taken the breath out his body, and in between pants he examined the cabin to make sure everyone was ok, particularly Bryony.

   "I don't know who you are, but thank you," Barbara said to him.

    "It was our pleasure," Adriano replied as he activated a device attached to his wrist watch. Speaking into it he said to an unknown recipient, "Requesting pick up, sending you co-ordinates. And tell Jacob Anderson that his family is safe!"

     "…The trial against Julian Baines continued today when his ex-colleague Jacob Anderson gave evidence, despite a daring attempt to abduct members of his family. American authorities have since made multiple arrests against those involved, including Nigel Taft, Mr Anderson's long term business partner, and more are expected. Many have praised the heroic actions of Captain Phil McPherson, whose quick thinking and textbook emergency landing saved the lives of the three women in danger."

     The man with a bristly white beard paused the news report on the BBC website and closed his laptop. "Excellent work you three. A dramatic series of events to be sure, but you adapted to the situation brilliantly."

     His three apprentices stood before him in a line. Adriano and Bryony were now dressed in sharp suits, while Jason now wore a different pilot's uniform. "Do you think the Anderson family will talk?" Adriano asked.

    The bearded man shook his head. "They know we have saved them from some very dangerous men, and they will return the favour with their silence. I made my feelings on the subject well known to Jacob when I called him a few hours ago."

     "What of Phil?" Jason asked. "He did save all our lives with that landing, and he was only acting out of desperation. And isn't that what being part of the Guild is all about, to aid the desperate and destitute?"

     His boss nodded in agreement. "Well said Jason. I shall arrange for a suitable sum of money to be transferred into his wife's account upon his death."

    "Thank you sir, may I return to the cockpit?" Jason asked.

    "You may, and well done again!" his boss replied. Jason gave a reverent bow, then left the office, stepping out onto the corridors of the privately owned passenger jet. He returned to join the pilot in the cockpit as they began their approach to Manchester Airport.

      "What you going to do in Manchester Adriano?" Bryony asked informally as their meeting came to an end.

     His dark eyes sparkling Adriano replied, "I've got tickets to see Juventus play Man United in the Champions League. Molto bene indeed!"

     But with a resigned sigh the bearded man announced, "I'm afraid you may need to seek a refund. Something has come up."

    At this news neither Adriano nor Bryony showed any disappointment at the loss of their free time. They'd pledged their allegiance to this man and they were more than happy to fulfil any task he gave them. "What can we do sir?" Bryony asked.

    From underneath his desk the man withdrew two electronic tablets containing all the information for their next assignment. "Intel was received regarding the location of a thief for whom I have searched for years. It seems they are planning a series of robberies in this area. Our job is to find them and bring them to justice."

    Adriano turned on the tablet device in his hands and stared at the map that appeared on the screen. It showed a number of towns deep in the heart of England. Right slap bang in the middle of this map was a town called Carrington.







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