Authors: John J. Nance
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Praise for the Writing of John J. Nance
“King of the modern-day aviation thriller.” â
“Nance is a wonderful storyteller.” â
“A taut high-tech mystery that could have been written only by an airline industry insider.” â
New York Times
âbestselling author Stephen Coonts
“Harrowing â¦ Nance delivers suspense and smooth writing. A classy job.” â
The New York Times Book Review
“A ticking time bomb of suspense.” â
“A combination of
The Hot Zone
“So compelling it's tough to look away.” â
The Last Hostage
“A thrilling ride â¦ [Will] keep even the most experienced thriller addicts strapped into their seats for the whole flight.” â
“A high tension, white knuckle thriller â¦ Joltingly scary.” â
New York Post
“Mesmerizing in-flight details [and] a compelling cast of realistic characters â¦ once again prove John J. Nance âthe king of the modern-day aviation thriller'.” â
“Readers are in for death-defying plane rides, lively dialogue, and realistic characters who survive crises with courage and humor.” âAssociated Press
On Shaky Ground: America's Earthquake Alert
“Gripping! Breathlessly unrolls a succession of disasters.â¦ If you want a literary equivalent of the quake experience,
On Shaky Ground
is the book for you.” â
San Francisco Examiner
John J. Nance
To My Mother, Margrette Nance Lynch,
Who laid the foundation,
To my Aunt, Martha Nance Kanowsky,
My first editor.
Friday, October 12
A lightning flash blinded Dr. Mark Weiss momentarily through the rain-smeared windshield, illuminating his wife Kimberly in the passenger seat of the family's station wagon as she turned in his direction. A rumble of thunder followed in rapid succession.
“Honey, we don't have a choice. Dad may not â¦” Kim stopped, choking on the recognition that her father's heart attack several hours before on a Dallas golf course had left him at death's door.
“I know, but I still wish we could wait. This is a lousy night to be traveling anywhere.” Mark found her hand and squeezed it gently.
For nearly an hour the nighttime thunderstorm had whipped the Missouri countryside, swelling the streams and threatening to block their path to Kansas City's International Airport, a delay they couldn't afford: the last flight to Dallas was already preparing for departure.
Mark felt the gusting winds competing with him for control as he maneuvered along the crown of the rain-slicked rural road, his concentration divided by the nagging worry over the last-minute reservations he'd made on Flight 170 for Kim and the boys. He hated the thought of them flying alone. They always seemed so vulnerable.
Kim squeezed his hand in return, a flicker of a smile crossing her face. She knew he had to stay for his Saturday meeting.
Mark was very good at helping others overcome all sorts of fears and phobias in his practice as a clinical psychologist, yet Kim knew how quickly he turned into a basket case of anxiety when
family flew anywhere without him. Working with airline people had made it worse. For two years he had treated the traumatized employees of a major East Coast airline sliding toward bankruptcy. Kim knew the plight of those people was on his mind. Tomorrow's meeting was an attempt to renew the foundation grant which had kept the program going.
“I should be able to join you in Dallas tomorrow by six,” he said simply.
Kim studied her husband of seven years as she reached into the backseat to collar six-year-old Aaron, who had hit the breaking point listening to the marathon wailing of his four-year-old brother.
“Mom! Greg won't shut up!”
“Both of you quiet down! I mean it!” Kim commanded. Greg was reacting to the tension in the air. So was Aaron, for that matter, but he was handling it differentlyâfiring a steady barrage of questions at his father and waving his favorite toy, a plastic jet fighter, a replica of the F-15, on which Mark had stenciled the name Aaron had given it: “Millennium Falcon.”
“That's the airport, right Daddy?” Aaron strained at his seat-belt, waiting for an answer, a wide-eyed look of excitement on his face.
In the distance, sodium-vapor lights were bathing Kansas City International with an orange glow, barely visible now between the urgent swipes of the windshield wipers as they fought a pitched battle against a sea of rain. In the foreground, Mark could almost make out the ghostly apparition of virgaâhanging wisps of rain showers on rapidly descending columns of moisture-laden airâan indicator of violent downdrafts.
“Daddy?” Aaron was demanding an answer.
“Yes, Son, that's the airport,” he managed, turning to Kim. “What was the departure time again?”
“And it's now â¦?”
“I don't know if we'll make it or not,” he said, “but we'll sure try.” Mark pressed the accelerator down a bit harder as another burst of lightning caught the distant outline of a TWA maintenance hangar, the distinctive aroma of fresh rain filling the car.
Beneath Gate 12 in the North America Airlines terminal, in an operations area never seen by passengers, Captain Pete Kaminsky stood in front of the pilots' bulletin board, shaking his head in resigned exasperation.
“Not again!” he said to no one in particular, unaware a fellow captain had stopped to peruse the same piece of paper that had caught his eye.
“You talking about the latest memo?”
Pete turned in the direction of the question, somewhat startled. The man's face was unfamiliar. “Yes, I was.”
“More of the same. Now we're supposed to report, in writing no less, if we dare overrule maintenance and refuse to fly a broken airplane. In other words, you suckers fly anything maintenance says to fly, or we'll make your lives miserable.”
Pete looked closely at his counterpart, startled by the sneer on the man's face as he continued, tapping the memo angrily with his uniform cap. “Look at this phrase. Anyone who ends each note to us with bullshit likeââcompliance is mandatory and failure to comply will be met with severe disciplinary action, up to and including termination' is not fit to lead professionals in any field. I've had it with their threats.”
Pete looked closely at the offensive phrase, startled he had overlooked it before. “I â¦ guess I'm so used to seeing those words, I didn't even notice them this time.”
“Everything we get from this goddamn company has that phrase in it.” The man put on his captain's hat as he turned and scooped up his rectangular flight bag, opening the door to the hallway before hesitating and glancing back at Kaminsky, whose name he did not know. “You headed out?”
“Yeah,” Pete answered. “You just come in?”
“Yep. Goin' home after four days on the road. Watch it out there, it's pretty bumpy. Thunderstorm cells were showing up on our radar in all directions.”
“That's encouraging,” Pete replied with a friendly snort, noticing a smile cross the other captain's face as he held the door with his shoulder and gave Pete a small wave with his free hand.
“Have a good one.”
Pete turned and moved farther into the crew room, feeling suddenly tired and depressed as he headed for the stack of pilot mailboxes lining one wall, pawing through the memos and technical revisions in his pigeonhole. He had fought hard to become an airline captain, and the position meant the world to him. At the age of forty-eight, his captaincy marked the apex of his professional accomplishments. He was proud of his four stripesâhe loved his jobâbut he couldn't deny something was missing.
The crew room itself was depressingâheavily worn easy chairs and a stained rug allegedly designed by Halston. It had belonged to Braniff before their first bankruptcy in 1982, typically opulent with oak paneling, leather seats, South American tapestries on the walls, and even a huge console color television, long since broken. Now it was North America's, and therefore neglected. There was no money to be spent on flight crews in the midst of the competitive wars spawned by airline deregulation, so what had been a showplace was now a dowdy dump. Even the various hanging TV monitors displaying arriving and departing flights were in bad repair, their images dim and flickering.
“Hey Pete, what're you flying tonight?”
A fellow captain's voice wafted across the room, a pilot Pete had roomed with years ago in Minneapolis when they were both fresh out of the Air Force and making the grand total of four hundred dollars a monthâbarely paying for food, yet ecstatic to be airline pilots for North America. Those had been happy days.
“The infamous Flight 170 sequence. The Dallas Everywhere,” Pete shot back, a broad smile on his face. “Tonight the milk run to DFW through at least a couple of tornadoes, tomorrow the New York death march through Memphis, Nashville, Washington, and points north. But neither rain nor sleet nor snow nor dark of night shall stay this carrier from its appointed rounds.”