Thursday, December 09, 2010

Phantom Train, Chapter One, Part Three

Begin with the beginning.

"Come on, Mac, don't worry. That ain't gonna happen. This company is built on principle. First American did never, does never, and will never abandon any ship, building, or business to any rebels, criminals, looters, terrorists, spies, forces of nature, or acts of god. Never happened. Not. Gonna. Happen. Never. You're damn right. It's my job to make sure of that. You bet we won't give up one of our most profitable mines to a ghost — no matter what it takes. I think it's best if I get to the bottom of this business ASAP. You got here by plane?"

"It's being refueled at LaGuardia."

"And you've come into Manhattan by car?"


"OK, excuse me for a minute — I've got to make some calls, and we'll be on our way to the airport in no time." Traynor picked up the receiver and punched out a number at the Federal Building.

"Jordan," a female voice answered.

"Hi, Jen. I won't be in town for a couple of days. Gotta go to Arizona… What place in Arizona? Jinxville, ever heard of it? … No, not Winslow — Jinxville. … No, I didn't know such a place existed, either. … Yeah, I'll keep looking out for such a sight anyway. … Sure, I'll bring you a jinx if they've got any left. … Thanks. Bye."

Traynor had met his girlfriend Jennifer Jordan on an earlier assignment. She worked for the federal government, with an intelligence agency. He knew it was the CIA, but she would never admit to that, mischievously citing "national security." It was a running gag between the two of them. Traynor anxiously awaited the day when she would answer his call, "Agent Jordan, Central Intelligence Agency, how can I help you?" Yet, exactly like him, she was just too stubborn to ever give in.

Next, he called a pilot of what company employees jocularly referred to as the "First American Air Force." Replacing the receiver, he got up from behind his desk. "OK, Mac, taxi's too slow. Let's get going."

Traynor did not have to drop by at his East Forties apartment to pack. He just picked up a large suitcase containing everything he might possibly need. Wisely, he had deposited it in his office just in case.

As they crossed the anteroom, McGinnis nodded at the deserted desk. "By the way, where's your secretary? Guess she believes in all-day lunch breaks?"

"Vacation, actually. Went to Club Gitmo."

"Club Gitmo?"

Traynor opened one of the double doors. "That's a long story."

He showed McGinnis to an express elevator. Inside, Traynor pressed a button. The elevator descended rapidly. The digits of the display showed ever lower floor numbers until they had gone halfway down the building. The elevator doors parted. Traynor led the way through a skylobby to a corner of the tower.

They exited onto a rooftop heliport. It was located on top of one of the four perimeter towers surrounding the central tower of First American Building. The perimeter towers rose to half the height of the central tower. Yet, the heliport was far above any other building in the neighborhood, so pilots could easily approach it, as long as they stayed clear of the central tower. The top of the latter could not be used as a heliport, as it supported a communications tower.

A Bell 222 corporate helicopter awaited Traynor and McGinnis. As soon as they were seated, the pilot took off. Traynor looked down at the pyramidal top of the slender Met Life Tower, then back at First American Building. At their corners, the perimeter towers connected to the four corners of the central tower, so the five towers were joined into one monolithic structure. The towers were clad in solar bronze glass, whose dark tint contrasted with the sunlight. Each tower was a perfect prism without any setbacks, each floor a perfect square of exactly the same size. The towers rose from the center and corners of a huge cube that housed Manhattan's largest indoor shopping mall.

Traynor's eyes swept upwards along the central tower. At its very apex, at the tip of the communications tower, flew the Stars and Stripes. Frequently, the Flag up there got tattered by the high winds, but it was always replaced, and the worn Flags sold in the souvenir store of the observation deck. Flags that had been flying over the tallest structure in the world were always in demand.

En route to LaGuardia Airport, they passed the skyscrapers of Midtown. Limousines, cabs, and buses were bottled up in the canyons below. Now they had already left behind the former world government complex. The Bell raced across the East River and the cantilevered steel web of the Queensboro Bridge, then sped over the new apartment high rises of Long Island City. The lower-rise neighborhood of Astoria zipped away below them as they approached LaGuardia.

The helicopter touched down next to a small Eclipse 500 executive jet, whose twin tail-mounted Pratt and Whitney PW610F turbofan engines were already running. The fuselage of the Eclipse was painted white, bearing sweptback blue and red markings that spelled: "First American Corporation." Wings and T-tail shimmered in gold metallic, and the vertical stabilizer was emblazoned with a silver coin that had the golden Sign of the Dollar on it.

"Beats taxi anytime," grinned Traynor as they boarded the jet.

The moment Traynor and McGinnis snapped shut their seat-belt buckles, the Eclipse started taxiing to the runway. The turbofan engines were singing faster and faster — the airport structures began rushing by. Suddenly, the ground dropped away — the sleek little jet quickly gained altitude, banking on a westward course. They recrossed the East River, then traversed the Upper East Side and the vast green expanse of Central Park.

The skyline of Central Park South and the towers of Midtown behind were still glistening in the sun. When they reached the Hudson, the boxy, spire-topped towers of the new Atlantis Center beckoned to their left, while the apartment buildings of Trump Place lay below to their right. It looked like the concrete shapes of man's genius were waving farewell, while the small plane embarked on a quest into an uncharted wilderness.

Like the pioneers in the nineteenth century, the men went west to conquer the unknown. What would they find on the outskirts of nature? Another conquest to be made by man — or the abyss of the supernatural, where no human life was possible?

Read on…

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