Flying aboard Fireflash always gave Jeff Tracy a kick.
True, he was the owner of an aircraft that could circle the globe in under an hour, but unlike Thunderbird One the huge Air Terrainean airliner was built to luxurious standards for the modern air traveller.
The New York to London route on which the aircraft was presently travelling was one of the most frequently operated scheduled flights on the AT roster and it ran like clockwork. Across the spacious first-class wing lounge from Jeff’s position was a man in dark glasses and a wide-brimmed hat who had his own plan that was just as tightly scheduled.
The man’s real name was Sandy MacDonald, but to his criminal associates he was known simply as The Magician. He had earned the name because of his sleight of hand skills and planned to put them to use before the Fireflash landed in London.
Jeff was reclining in his chair when The Magician stood up, stretched theatrically, and made for the main cabin. Jeff barely glanced at the sharp features of the profile under the hat, but that was all it took for his photographic memory to flash a warning as clear as a bell. He had seen that face somewhere before, but where? His mind flicked through a virtual album of faces until he got the right picture. Yes, it was Sandy MacDonald alright.
Jeff had been alerted to the so-called Magician’s activities by International Rescue’s local agent in Madrid the previous year. Several wealthy victims at the scene of a disaster had been relieved of their valuables and all signs pointed to one of the aid workers who assisted Scott and Virgil with the rescue operation. CCTV footage revealed MacDonald posing as one of the workers and although nothing could be proven, his file with Interpol made him the number one suspect.
Jeff cast a watchful eye around the cabin. Certainly his fellow passengers in first class would have made tempting targets for The Magician’s illegal activities, but somehow Jeff didn’t think that was why MacDonald was on board. Intrigued by his hunch, he got up and followed MacDonald at a discreet distance.
The regular seating in Fireflash occupied the central fuselage and as Jeff entered the connecting door from the wing, he could see MacDonald sauntering lazily down the port side aisle. To the casual observer he was just stretching his legs, but in Jeff’s mind it was nothing so mundane. Jeff eyed up the passengers along the aisle in front of MacDonald. His gaze came to rest on the features of a young man who was nervously looking around him.
The man gripped a black and white Air Terrainean-branded wallet. He held it close to his chest as though he was afraid that letting go might cause the plane to fall from the sky. As Jeff looked back at MacDonald, he saw the Magician slide a hand into his jacket pocket.
The nervous man began to stand up, fumbling for his safety belt. As he tore it off and stepped into the aisle, he collided with the Magician. The man gave a little shriek of embarrassment or possibly of fear, Jeff thought. The Magician knelt down, picked up the wallet the other man had dropped, made a gesture of apology and crossed to the starboard aisle.
It was the oldest trick in the book, but Jeff had to admit the Magician had played the part smoothly. The wallet the nervous man was once again clutching was almost certainly not the one he had dropped. That one was now concealed in the Magician’s jacket pocket.
Jeff looked at his watch. There was still half an hour before they began their descent to London. He reasoned that was enough time for some in-flight entertainment.
After a quick stop at the gift-shop on the lower deck, Jeff returned to his seat in the wing compartment. He was now the owner of a brand new Air Terrainean-branded wallet. He just needed an opportunity to use it.
It came a few minutes later when the Magician moved to the bar at the rear of the lounge. Jeff made his move. As he approached from behind, he purposely stumbled and grabbed at MacDonald’s jacket as if to steady himself.
“Sorry about that! Guess I still get a little unsteady on these things”, Jeff said, stitching an apologetic look on his face and gesturing around the lounge.
MacDonald grunted noncommittally. He surreptitiously patted his jacket to verify the wallet was still there. It was. His drink came and he took his seat.
Jeff walked back out into the main cabin. It had worked like a treat. He smiled as he thought back to the long evening that he and Parker had spent waiting for Lady Penelope to return from a charity function. Parker had passed the time by teaching Jeff a few tricks of his own devious trade, “For use in h’emergencies, sir!” he had said.
Jeff suppressed a chuckle. He approached the nervous passenger in the aisle seat and tapped him on the shoulder. The man nearly jumped out of his skin.
“Gee, sorry if I startled you. I was passing by this way earlier and I dropped my wallet”, he pulled out the wallet he had taken from the Magician before continuing, “I’ve just realised this one isn’t mine, but I see you have one just like it. I figure they must have got switched.”
The look on the man’s face momentarily flashed into sheer terror, but something about the earnest look on Jeff’s face quelled whatever was troubling the fellow. He opened the wallet he had been clutching and looked inside. There was nothing but a few pieces of display-only paper sporting a money pattern and a price label which was still attached. The man looked up at Jeff, who smiled sheepishly.
“I just bought it earlier, a gift for a friend. I believe this one is yours.”
He handed the man’s original wallet back to him. The man peeked inside, his eyes filled with tears of relief and for a moment Jeff thought that the guy might actually hug him.
“You….you don’t know what this means. If I had lost this…I….I…”
“Hey, don’t worry about it. Glad I could help!”
Just then the stewardess announced that they were about to begin their descent and passengers should return to their seats.
“Well, guess I’d better go. Nice meeting you!”
With a friendly wave, Jeff turned and strode back along the aisle as the man sighed contentedly and smiled for the first time since leaving New York.
As Jeff sat down, he wondered what it had all been about. He hadn’t opened the stolen wallet. Whatever the other man had been keeping in there was his business. However, he knew very well what was in the wallet in the possession of the Magician. He’d placed it there himself before making the switch. A thin metallic strip with a miniature transmitter inside. It would act as a homing beacon and would give the local authorities a lead if the Magician managed to slip past them at the terminal building.
With a chuckle, Jeff fastened his safety belt and looked down at the sea of clouds that appeared to be rising up towards him. It had been a short but very eventful flight!