Monday, May 7, 2012

ALONG FOR THE RIDE Chapter 8

Here's the scoop: Several Avalon Authors have come together to write a novel for fun. Every author contributes one chapter. There is no pre-arranged plot; there are no rules except that we follow Avalon's guidelines of writing family-friendly material. If you missed the first seven chapters or if you would like to refresh your memory, please click on "Avaloner Online Novel" in the column to the right.


Chapter 8
by Jayne Ormerod
         
The plane made a slow U-turn and began its laborious journey back towards the gate.  Murmurings of speculation and suppositions as to the reason for our return grew increasingly louder despite the slinky, red-haired stewardess wandering up and down the aisle reminding everyone, “Nothing to worry about, folks.  This is only a slight delay.”  Despite the calmness in her voice, the passengers sounded a scooch short of full-blown panic.   
          When the stewardess got to our row, she leaned across the young man in the aisle seat and pushed the button to raise Stan’s seat to its full and upright position.  To the casual observer, it looked perfectly routine.  But I saw her lean in and whisper something in Stan’s ear.  She stood and smiled, but her green eyes telegraphed a warning.  I took the warning to include me, as well.
          Stan nodded.  Well, not so much nodded but offered an almost imperceptible jerk of the head, then turned to me and smiled.  And wow, when that man smiled, well, let’s just say my heart did a little somersault that knocked against my ribs. 
          Then he did something totally unexpected.  He reached out and slipped his right hand into mine so that our fingers were interlocked.  You know, the way lovers hold hands while walking on the beach at sunset. 
          I looked down at my lap, and a feeling of safety washed over me.  My gaze lifted to meet his without any effort on my part.  He was still smiling, all the way up to his twinkling green eyes.  So this is what it’s like to tumble helplessly in love I thought to myself.  What an intoxicating feeling. 
          Stan leaned over until our foreheads touched, and our gazes met and locked.  I swear I heard the sound of gears clicking into place. 
          “Your aunt was right, you know,” he said.
          “Right about what?” I asked, batting my eyelashes ever so flirtatiously.  I swear, that was the first time in my life I had ever done that.  What was happening to me?
          “Right about the fact that you’re irresistible.”
          “Me? Irresistible?”  Flutter, flutter. 
          “Mmm hmm.”
          At that point, Stan began to murmur sweet nothings to me.  At least I thought it was sweet nothings, okay I fantasized sweet nothings, but actually it was quite the opposite.
          “Something is about to happen that might be a little frightening,” he said, very softly and very calmly.  “Just let things play out and don’t overreact.” 
          “What’s going to happen?” I whispered, a tinge of nervousness churning in my stomach.
          He hesitated a moment, as if weighing how much he should—or maybe could—tell me.  “As soon as we get to the gate, some men in suits are going to get on this plane and flash F.B.I. badges and then take me off in handcuffs.”
          Oh. My. Golly.  This man, whose cinnamon breath whispered across my lips and whose Irish eyes danced like mischievous leprechauns, was in trouble with the law.  But not just an unpaid-traffic-tickets law or stealing-a-Snickers-bar-from-the-drugstore law, but serious, F.B.I. law.
          I pulled my head back, but Stan stopped me when he reached his left hand up and cradled my neck, keeping us close.  Very close.  I didn’t want to like it.  Tried my very hardest not to like it, but if I were to be honest with myself, I liked being close to Stan.  A whole heaping lot. 
          “I promise you with everything I hold dear, this is not what it seems,” he whispered. 
          “I can’t think of any logical reason why the F.B.I. would want you unless you did something really bad,” I whispered back while my imagination took off at a full gallop.  “Are you a drug runner?  Did you kill someone?  Oh, wait.  Angelo’s is your restaurant.  An Italian restaurant.  You’re with the mob.  You’re a hit man for the--” 
          Before I could get another word out, Stan’s lips touched mine.  Not a gentle brushing of a man who was testing the waters, but a hard, strong possessive kiss that claimed my heart and left me breathless.
          And he didn’t stop after one kiss.  Okay, maybe I didn’t stop after one kiss.  All I know is that time and place seemed to dissolve until it consisted only of Stan and me and the here and now.  Nothing else seemed to matter.  Not all the people on the plane, not the sound of the airplane door swooshing open, and especially not the fact that Stan could quite possibly be a hit man for the Mafia.
          The kiss went on, and a little growl rumbled in Sam’s throat that I heard as well as felt.  Then he mewed.  Or maybe that was me mewing.  That was definitely me mewing.  I leaned in closer, wanting more. 
          “Mr. Stanley Robillio, I’m with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and I need you to come with me.”
          “No,” I whimpered after Stan pulled away from our lip-lock.
          “Yes,” the smartly dressed F.B.I. agent said. Then he reached down, grabbed Stan by the scruff of his neck and physically hauled him to his feet. 
          “It’s not what it seems,” Stan mouthed to me. 
          He continued to watch me as I watched the F.B.I. agents slap handcuffs on him.  They began reading him his Miranda rights as they led him down the aisle.  He kept his head turned over his shoulder, watching me, until he turned the corner to exit the plane.  And then he was gone. 
          I felt, both figuratively and literally, like a child whose balloon had been popped by a bully.  He said to trust him.  And I did. 
          When my cell phone buzzed indicating an incoming text (oops, I guess I’d been too distracted by Stan to extinguish it for the flight), I glanced at it more out of habit than any desire to communicate with anyone.  
          From: Aunt Mel.  Mayday.  Mayday.  Had another voodoo vision.  Do not let Stan out of your sight.  Repeat, do not let Stan out of your sight.
          I had a voodoo vision of my own.  Stan and I together.  Forever.  But first I needed to save him from the F.B.I.
          I unbuckled my seatbelt, scrambled out of the seat and ran down the aisle calling, “Stop the plane! I want to get off!”

* * *

            Mission:  Failed. 
Stan managed to escape the clutches of the F.B.I. and abscond without my ever laying eyes on him.    
Instead, I’d been escorted by the two F.B.I. agents to Stan’s boyhood home in a middle-class suburb of Seattle where I was introduced to his Italian mother, Mrs. Robillio.  The four of us now sat huddled around a scratched and scarred oak table, sipping coffee and eating home-made cannolis.  For the record, they were the best cannolis I’d ever tasted in my life. 
          “Let me get this straight,” I said around a mouthful of the scrumptious Sicilian pastry. “Stan’s participating in a Survive Seattle reality TV show requiring the participants to collect certain items from around the city based on clues they earn.  Sort of like a scavenger hunt, but their efforts are being sabotaged at every turn by their competitors as well as official troublemakers, who are people paid to prevent them from achieving their goal.  The scary men I saw yesterday were troublemakers, but Annie the Starbucks barista is actually on his team.  But he’s also working for you,” I said, pointing my cannoli at Mrs. Robillio, “to make sure he doesn’t drop out, because Stan really didn’t want to do this in the first place but was pressured by the family because the winner gets half a million dollars, which will save Angelos Restaurant from bankruptcy and will keep dozens of family members gainfully employed for another generation.”  I paused to take a breath and a sip of coffee. 
          “Then,” I continued, “when Stan purchased two plane tickets for LA, Annie called you because she realized he was on his way to the corporate offices to officially withdraw from the show, thus forfeiting even the ten-thousand dollar participation fee.  So you sent these two,” I jabbed my thumb in the direction of the F.B.I agents, “who are actually Stan’s adoptive cousins using badges purchased at the local discount store, to keep him from quitting the show.”
          All three nodded.
          “And the red-haired stewardess who gave him a warning, she’s in on this?”
          “That’s Stan’s baby sister, Darla, also adopted, obviously” Mrs. Robillio said. “He’s not speaking to her right now because this was all her idea.  Her husband is the sous-chef at Angelos and will be out of a job if the restaurant closes.  So she needs Stan to win the money as much, if not more, than the rest of us.” 
          Darla had probably been warning him to get back in the game, I thought.  “So, he wasn’t actually poisoned?” I asked.
          “No,” Antonio, the larger of the two cousins, said.  “He planned to use the ambulance ride as a diversion so that he could shake the guys following him and sneak down to the Seattle Underground.  He thinks the next clue to the puzzle is down there.  In fact, that’s where he is now.” 
          “So how did he shake the guys following him this time?”
          Antonio refused to make eye contact with me as he said, “Something’s you’re better off not knowing right now.”   
          Yikes.  That was as ominous a warning as I’d ever heard.  No wonder Aunt Mel wanted me to keep my eyes on Stan.  And I planned to do just that—as soon as I could find him. 
          I sat back against the spindle-backed kitchen chair and tried to fit all the puzzle pieces together.  I still had a few extraneous bits, though.  One in particular bothered me greatly.  “Why did he tell me he didn’t want me, and I quote, ‘leading them to Aunt Mel’?”
          Bartelom√© (the second cousin/F.B.I agent) fielded this question.  His chair creaked as he pushed it back and balanced in on the back two legs.  “Your aunt provided him the answer to one of the clues, something that had to do with a Seattle Underground event that happened about thirty years ago when she was a reporter for the local paper.  So Stan is one step ahead of everyone right now because of that bit of information, and he doesn’t want any of the others making that connection between him and her and you.” Bartelom√© let the front legs of his chair slam against the tile floor.
          “After you two were spotted at the Japanese restaurant,” Antonio said, picking up the explanation, “Stan received a note threatening your safety so he wanted to keep you in sight at all times.  And since he needed to get to LA to withdraw from the crazy game, he decided to take you with him.”
          Hmm.  Interesting.  And somehow, it made sense.  “So what’s the big secret between Stan and Aunt Mel?  The reason she sent me here when she realized she had trouble in the area?”
          The three Robillio’s looked at each other then shrugged their shoulders.  “Nothing to do with Survive Seattle,” Mrs. Robillio said.  “Must be something else.”
          I’d have to ask Stan about that next time I saw him.  After I kissed him silly, that is.
          “So why didn’t he tell me all this to begin with?” I asked.
          My question was met with uncomfortable silence.
          “Well?” I prompted.
          Mrs. Robillio pulled herself up taller in her chair.  “The truth is, he originally planned to use you as a pawn.  You know, to lead the competition off in the wrong direction.  But as soon as he met you he became smitten with you--”
          “He’s smitten with me?” I asked.
          “He didn’t actually say it, no,” Mrs. Robillio said.  “But I know when Stan is smitten, and he’s more smitten right now than I’ve ever seen him.” 
          That observation warmed the cockles of my heart.  I had to admit I returned his smitten-ly affections.  Honestly, after that kiss I was a bit beyond smitten.  I had crossed the line over to ga-ga.  Especially now that I knew he wasn’t a drug dealer or killer, just a realty TV star. 
          Mrs. Robillio continued talking.  “He didn’t want to risk putting you in danger.  The less you knew, the better.”
          I made a snap decision.  I was going all in, to coin a poker phase.  “I’ll do whatever Stan needs me to do to win this thing,” I said, hoping with all my heart it wouldn’t be too dangerous.
          My announcement was met with cheers and high-fives all around. 
          I had a brief moment of second thoughts when the image of the scary looking man from last night flashed in my mind.  He looked like he would go to great lengths—possibly even slightly illegal and by that I mean physically hurtful lengths—to stop me from helping Stan win.  I mean, with so much money at stake, things could get ugly.  And me, Miss Better Safe than Sorry, had just climbed into the danger zone.
          Before I could change my mind or establish some parameters for my involvement, Mrs. Robillio said, “Antonio, grab Sonya here a team shirt.”
          Antonio left the room and returned moments later holding up a black T-shirt with a Team Stan logo on the front. 
          I got a little nervous when he flipped it around to show me the back.
          All’s fair in love and reality TV. 

4 comments:

Sandy Cody said...

Wow! I didn't see that coming. What fun.

Fran McNabb said...

Jayne, great job! Ditto Sandy's remard: What fun! I love the turn of events.

Beate Boeker said...

. . . great, great fun! I'm constantly surprised by the turns this novel takes!

Rebecca L. Boschee said...

LOVE the twist, Jayne! I'll bet the next author in line is having fun puzzling this one out. (:

Also glad to see MAYBE they'll end up on a tour of the underground after all! But, if not, I'm sure whatever is in store for Stan and Sonya will be lots of fun.