Frankie gazed down from a second-floor balcony overlooking the ballroom. Her burgundy evening gown, that cost a month’s salary, flowed above her new satin slippers. Her gold necklace complemented the blonde highlights in her auburn hair. 

For nearly a year she had worked to create a New Year's Eve bash that would get environmental scientists rubbing shoulders with the financial powerhouses of the United States. The location had been a sure shot: the most exclusive hotel on a California beach north of  Monterey. The oceanside amenities met the expectations of the wealthy in a small pocket of the state that rarely saw the fires ravaging so many other communities. Two sides of the building provided stunning views of the ever-changing ocean, subtle reminders of the environment.

Coordinating top tier international entertainers to blow away other venues that attracted the rich and famous to their New Year's Eve parties had been Frankie’s greatest coup. If this worked, influential people would start the new decade with happy memories, a new attitude toward investing in renewable energy, and probably a terrible hangover.

 The star performers had retired from the smaller party rooms on the upper floors to their suites to change clothes for the midnight climax in the main ballroom. Roadies pushed mobile units full of instruments and equipment past the balcony toward the freight elevator. Frankie noticed a nervous elderly man pushing a luggage trolly full of musical instrument cases back toward the concert venue. He saw her watching him and smiled holding up a single drumstick. No doubt he was searching for its mate and his employers would fire him on the spot if he came back without it. Frankie gave him an encouraging wave and turned toward the staircase to the main ballroom.

A domed ceiling over the ballroom was lit with projections of live feed of New Year's Eve events from around the world. Later the dome would serve as a canvas for the high tech special effects announcing the beginning of the new decade. She had seen a preview and she was sure that the computer generated fireworks that shook the room with resounding booms then faded into a brilliant night sky would more than satisfy their guests.

 The orchestra played a lively selection of show tunes while the guests found seats and gave drink orders at the tables around the dance floor. Frankie watched the one percent greet scientists like old friends and invite them to take a seat at their tables.  The snippets of conversation that she overheard as she greeted the guests were focused on general topics with a few serious conversations about the perils of climate change--mostly financial perils--based on a potential shift in the base of the economy away from oil. 

U.S. Senator Adam Jackson rose from his chair beaming at Frankie. He introduced her to the small group at his table, “The lovely Ms. Frances Davis, Coordinator of the 1.5 Degrees Project and the person that put this party together.” His even white teeth flashed in a made-for-camera smile. Frankie shook hands around the table making each person the total focus of her attention for a few seconds. 

“I had lots of help,” Frankie acknowledged. “In fact,” she waved to a broad shouldered man making his way across the ballroom toward them, “let me introduce Sam Houston, our tech master in charge of the special effects that will dazzle you at midnight.”

“That’s quite a name you’ve got to live up to,”  Texas oil baron Carlos Petróleo shook hands with Sam.

During the continued introductions and small talk that ensued, Frankie had a hard time tearing her gaze from Sam’s liquid brown eyes framed in dark thick eyelashes. 

She heard Petróleo comment, “Based on what I hear from your science guests, the world as we know it is doomed and it’s my fault.” 

Frankie spoke up, “We are not here to blame anyone, Mr. Petróleo. Oil has been the source of lifesaving inventions and lifestyle enhancements that we all enjoy, but some changes do need to be made. I’m sure you will find lucrative opportunities in the post-oil economy.”

 “You think we’re going to just fold our tents and lose everything we’ve invested?”

“Not at all. I think your business will find ways to create profit. That’s what businesses do. And, really, would it be so bad to add ‘Saving the Planet’ to your business model?”

Mrs. Petróleo broke in, “Leave it for tomorrow, Carlos. Tonight is a celebration!”

Senator Jackson raised his glass and made a toast, “To tomorrow!” 

Sam took Frankie’s arm guiding her away from the group. “We have a problem.”

“Isn’t that what people say to you?” Frankie laughed.

“Haha. Head of Security, Mike what’s-his-name asked me to find you. He needs you to meet him out back. He’s complaining again about you not wearing an earpiece.”

“I’m not leaving the ballroom to rehash the earpiece.”

“No, it’s something more. Somebody breached security with a weapon.”

“He can’t deal with it?”

“Mike said…come on I’ll walk you there.”

Alone in the elevator, Sam continued, “They’ve secured the gunman in a specially made facility just off the delivery dock, but Mike wants to talk with you before calling in the cops and making formal charges. Apparently it’s getting complicated. I hope I get to see you after this project is over.”

Frankie’s forehead furrowed, “Mike said that? He’s married and at least 60.”

“No, I’m saying that.”

Frankie gave him a warm smile. “Yes,” was all she had time to say as the elevator doors opened revealing Mike pacing the alley.

The head of security launched into his report immediately, “Bomb squad has been notified, but they’ve been flooded with calls about explosive devices all over the area. With our bomb in the containment unit, we’re not a high priority. We found a woman in the freight elevator. She came in thoroughly loaded. A couple semi-automatics and, get this, a belt of explosives around her waist. Doesn’t seem to speak English, but she’s got a paper she’s waving around and keeps yelling your name.”

Sam asked, “Where’s the detonator?”

“Don’t know. She’s not holding it. The bomb could be a fake, but…”

“My name?” Frankie asked. 

Mike nodded pointing to a laptop with muted video feed. On the screen an agitated face of a South Pacific Islander alternately yelled into the camera and held up a white piece of paper. 

“Can I talk to her?” Frankie asked.

“Do you want just sound or two-way video?”

“Video,” Frankie answered.

Mike punched a key and told the intruder, “Quiet down. We got Frankie here.”

The woman pushed the paper up close to the camera.

Frankie studied the printed message. Finally, she spoke to the intruder, “Lietu?”

The woman lowered the paper and spit at the camera, “America die!”

Mike muted the video, “What do you know about her?”

“I met her on a South Pacific island during a 1.5 Degrees Project tour. She’s a mad old bird from Tuvalu. It’s a group of nine islands just a few feet above sea level. They’re desperate people watching the ground under their feet dissolve into the ocean. I can’t read the text of the letter, but the letterhead indicates it’s from their government. I need a translation. Their governor does internet conferencing. Can we get in touch with him from here?”

“On it,” Sam started tapping his phone.

“And I think we’re going to need Senator Jackson.”

“The Senator? Are you sure you want a high ranking government official in on this?” Mike asked.

Frankie nodded. “The island nations attempted to sue the U.S. and China in the World Court over damages to their environment. The cases got dismissed.  And, Mike, if this is what I suspect it is, it won’t be an isolated incident. You should get a warning to whoever it is you call.”

Mike spoke into his headset instructing security in the ballroom to escort the legislator to the loading dock. He walked away and Frankie could not hear who else he spoke to.

Inside the structurally reinforced room Lietu was talking nonstop. Frankie pressed the audio button to listen. Names. Just an ongoing litany of names and a word that she had heard...where? Frankie’s mind raced reviewing conversations she remembered from over a year ago. It was on a beach, a beach covered with plastic refuse that had washed ashore along with...fish, dead fish.

Frankie pushed the video key again. “”Lietu, are you saying all of those people you named are dead?”

Lietu gave the camera an evil grin. She rattled back in her own language. This time Frankie was sure she got the translation right. “Daughter dead. Son dead. Babies dead. Tuvalu dead. America dead!” 

Mike rejoined Frankie and switched off the audio. “Do you understand what’s she saying?”

“Not much,” Frankie admitted. “Mike, what happened when you arrested her?”

“Tech noticed her on the security video and gave us a heads up. Didn’t look like a roadie or a performer and for sure not a guest, so we cut her off before she could get off the freight elevator. She took a shot at an old man that was in the elevator with her.”

“She had semi-automatic weapons and she only took one shot?”

“She dropped the gun and put her hands up as quick as she got the shot off. Really docile. Then we saw the bomb. The guy refused to leave his cart full of instruments behind, but we managed to get him off the elevator and on his way.”

Senator Jackson pushed his way through the door. “What the hell is so important you have interrupt…” He stopped when he saw their serious faces and the ranting woman on the video screen.

Sam returned to report, “We can’t get any kind of communication set up with anybody on Tuvalu. We did get a translation, Listen to this,” he read from his phone. “Justice has failed us. We will not quietly disappear into the ocean. For destroying our world, the people of Tuvalu declare war on the United States of America.”

“They can’t be serious,” Jackson blustered. A minuscule dot on the map with a GDP that won’t buy a tank of gas, they’ve got to be kidding.

On the monitor Lietu looked at her watch.  For the camera she held up three fingers, folding each one down in order. Three, two, one. Her fists closed next to each other with palms toward the camera. Then the old woman moved them apart extending all of her fingers. She mouthed the word, “Boom!”  

“What time is it?” Frankie asked.

“Two minutes to midnight,” Sam told her.

“Midnight. The bombs go off at midnight,” Frankie stated in a flat monotone, unable to grasp the fact even as she voiced it.

Comprehension dawned on Mike’s face. “We fell for the distraction. Damn it, that guy pushed a cart full of explosives right past us.” He hesitated no longer. “Frankie and Sam, this is starting to look like a shooting war. That makes the senator an important target. We need to get him out of here. Not to the parking lot, the protestors will cut you off that way, but we’ve kept them off the beach. You follow the shoreline south, to your left.  There are boats at the docks. Take one and get as far away as you can.” He turned away talking into his headset, “Evacuate the building. Repeat, evacuate the building immediately. Ballroom, open all sliding doors to the veranda and direct people toward the beach.”

Mike looked up to see the little group staring at him.

“Don’t just stand there,” he shouted in exasperation. “Run!”

Still Frankie did not move. “What about Lietu?”

Mike responded, “My responsibility. Your job is to get the senator to safety.”

Sam grabbed Frankie’s and Jackson’s arms pulling them away from the building toward the moonlit beach. They ran full tilt across the sand. 

Behind them the protestors shouted the midnight countdown drowning out the security officers’ directions to leave. As Frankie, Sam, and Senator Jackson reached the water, the frenzied protestors clamored: “3, 2, 1...” 


January 03, 2020 23:30

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Noel Thomas
13:33 Jan 08, 2020

Your story caught my attention with the first line having the word, "ballroom" because I'm a romantic. It quickly drew me in and I have never read about Tuvalu. I think writer's have the purpose to entertain and educate and you certainly captured both of these purposes! Enjoyable read!


Elaine Leet
18:55 Jan 08, 2020

Jessica, thank you for reading "A Whole New World." I puzzled over the beginning which does seem to lead into a romantic tale, only to take a sharp turn into action. I am so very pleased a romantic like yourself would be willing to continue the ride!


Noel Thomas
21:13 Jan 08, 2020

Yeah, when I saw "ballroom" and the description of her dress I was hooked. Like I said, I'm a sucker for romance! I enjoyed it! I love action too as long as there is a strong purpose. You did that well! It reminded me of watching the Bodyguard series. The one in the UK with Richard Madden. Keep up the good writing!


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