How do people choose their final words? Do they realize their gravity? Are they fated to be wise?
By his 83rd birthday, Eddie had lost nearly everyone he'd cared about. Some had died young, and some had been given a chance to grow old before a disease or an accident took them away. At their funerals, Eddie listened as mourners recalled their final conversations. "It's as if he knew he was going to die...." some would say.
Eddie never believed that. As far as he could tell, when your time came, it came, and that was that. You might say something smart on your way out, but you might just as easily say something stupid.
For the record, Eddie's final words would be "Get back!"
"OH MY GOD! LOOK!"
Eddie felt his eyes dart beneath his lids. Over the years, he had come to know every noise at Ruby Pier and could sleep through them all like a lullaby.This voice was not in the lullaby.
"OH MY GOD! LOOK!"
Eddie bolted upright. A woman with fat, dimpled arms was holding a shopping bag and pointing and screaming. A small crowd gathered around her, their eyes to the skies.
Eddie saw it immediately. Atop Freddy's Free Fall, the new "tower drop" attraction, one of the carts was tilted at an angle, as if trying to dump its cargo. Four passengers, two men, two women, held only by a safety bar, were grabbing frantically at anything they could.
"OH MY GOD!" the fat woman yelled. "THOSE PEOPLE! THEY'RE GONNA FALL!"
A voice squawked from the radio on Eddie's belt. "Eddie! Eddie!"
He pressed the button. "I see it! Get security!"
People ran up from the beach, pointing as if they had practiced this drill. Look! Up in the sky! An amusement ride turned evil! Eddie grabbed his cane and clomped to the safety fence around the platform base, his wad of keys jangling against his hip. His heart was racing.
Freddy's Free Fall was supposed to drop two carts in a stomach-churning descent, only to be halted at the last instant by a gush of hydraulic air. How did one cart come loose like that? It was tilted just a few feet below the upper platform, as if it had started downward then changed its mind.
"Listen to me!" Eddie said, grabbing Dominguez by the shoulders. His grip was so tight, Dominguez made a pained face. "Listen to me! Who's up there?"
"OK. He must've hit the emergency stop. That's why the cart is hanging. Get up the ladder and tell Willie to manually release the safety restraint so those people can get out. OK? It's on the back of the cart, so you're gonna have to hold him while he leans out there. OK? Then ... then, the two of ya's--the two of ya's--now, not one, you got it?--the two of ya's get them out! One holds the other! Got it!? ... Got it?"
Dominguez nodded quickly.
"Then send that damn cart down so we can figure out what happened!"
Eddie's head was pounding. Although his park had been free of any major accidents, he knew the horror stories of his business. Once, in Brighton, a bolt unfastened on a gondola ride and two people fell to their death. Another time, in Wonderland Park, a man had tried to walk across a roller coaster track; he fell through and got stuck beneath his armpits. He was wedged in, screaming, and the cars came racing toward him and ... well, that was the worst.
Eddie pushed that from his mind. There were people all around him now, hands over their mouths, watching Dominguez climb the ladder. Eddie tried to remember the insides of Freddy's Free Fall. Engine. Cylinders. Hydraulics. Seals. Cables. How does a cart come loose? He followed the ride visually, from the four frightened people at the top, down the towering shaft, and into the base. Engine. Cylinders. Hydraulics. Seals. Cables....
Dominguez reached the upper platform. He did as Eddie told him, holding Willie as Willie leaned toward the back of the cart to release the restraint. One of the female riders lunged for Willie and nearly pulled him off the platform. The crowd gasped.
"Wait ..." Eddie said to himself.
Willie tried again. This time he popped the safety release.
"Cable ..." Eddie mumbled.
The bar lifted and the crowd went "Ahhhhh." The riders were quickly pulled to the platform.
"The cable is unraveling...."
And Eddie was right. Inside the base of Freddy's Free Fall, hidden from view, the cable that lifted Cart No. 2 had, for the last few months, been scraping across a locked pulley. Because it was locked, the pulley had gradually ripped the cable's steel wires--as if husking an ear of corn--until they were nearly severed. No one noticed. How could they notice? Only someone who had crawled inside the mechanism would have seen the unlikely cause of the problem.The pulley was wedged by a small object that must have fallen through the opening at a most precise moment.