Wildfire
fire.
    There was a hiss of static, then one phrase came through clearly. ‘Protestors grabbed me …’ More static.
    ‘What?’ said Kelly. ‘Dad, can you repeat that?’
    ‘ Protestors grabbed me … ’
    They weren’t sure the first time what he had said, but this time there was no mistaking it.
    ‘Dad!’ shouted Kelly. ‘Are you all right?’
    The major didn’t answer Kelly’s question; just went on talking. Maybe he couldn’t hear them. Among the waves of hiss, only a few words were audible: ‘ Bel … conference centre … ’
    Ben was shocked. He leaned close to the phone in its cradle, as if that would help the major hear him better. ‘Bel? What about Bel? My mum – is she all right?’
    Kelly leaned forward too. In fact it made no difference because the sound was going through the headset system. ‘Dad, where are you?’
    ‘Major Kurtis, where’s Bel?’
    ‘ I’m on the gan … ’
    ‘Where?’
    The connection was getting worse. The major tried once more. ‘ On the gan … ’
    Then the connection failed and they heard no more. Kelly waved her bandaged hands at the phone. ‘Quick, call him back.’
    Ben had the phone in his hands, trying to navigate the menu. ‘I’m trying!’ He found the major’s number, but when he pressed call back, it wouldn’t connect.
    Kelly was frantic. ‘Damn! I saw those protestorsthis morning. I knew they were up to no good. They just hate Americans – we’re an easy target. We lived near Sydney for a couple of years and had to have special security at home because somebody tried to fire-bomb our garden.’ Suddenly she looked sharply ahead. ‘Watch your altitude! We’ve drifted down three hundred feet!’
    All at once Ben remembered the plane. He opened the throttle and climbed to fifteen hundred feet again.
    Kelly snapped out more corrections. ‘You’re not level. And slow down, we’re going to run out of fuel if you keep going like this. Have you any idea where we’re heading?’
    Ben was struggling to keep up with her instructions. ‘No, I don’t know where we’re going. You were finding us somewhere to land. Just chill.’
    Kelly spluttered. ‘Chill? They’ve got your mom too – aren’t you worried?’
    ‘Of course I’m worried but we won’t get anywhere by panicking. Is the plane OK? Can I leave it for long enough to call her?’
    Kelly looked at the controls. ‘Yeah. For a minute or so.’
    Ben put his phone in the cradle and tried Bel. But it wouldn’t make the connection.
    ‘Call nine-one-one,’ said Kelly.
    ‘Treble zero,’ said Ben irritably. He dialled and was put through immediately.
    ‘ Which service do you require? ’
    ‘Police.’
    Another voice came on the line almost immediately. ‘ Hello, police here. ’
    Kelly took over. ‘My father is Major Brad Kurtis of the US army. He’s just been kidnapped from the conference centre in Adelaide.’
    ‘ Your father has been kidnapped? ’ repeated the police controller. ‘ Are you sure? ’
    ‘Yes, and there’s someone with him. Dr Bel Kelland. She’s British.’
    ‘ Sorry, can you repeat that? ’
    Ben took over. He spelled out Bel’s name and tried to give a brief description. ‘She’s small, about five three, with red hair—’
    Kelly interrupted, yelling, ‘The gan! He said he was on the gan!’
    Ben wanted to strangle her. She wasn’t helping bygetting so hyper, and if she kept interrupting, how would the police ever get the information they needed?
    ‘ Can you repeat that? ’ asked the police controller patiently.
    ‘G-H-A-N,’ spelled out Kelly. She was reading off the map on her knee. Down one side was an advert with a picture of a big red train. ‘It’s a train that runs from Adelaide to Darwin.’
    ‘ Oh yes ,’ said the police controller. ‘ We know the Ghan. We’ll send officers to investigate. Thank you for your call .’
    Kelly looked up at the fuel gauge and screwed up her face.
    ‘What’s the matter?’ said Ben. ‘Tell me what to

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