When Imagineering apprentice Tommy Boyd is found face-down in the waters of the Jungle Cruise, the evidence points to mild-mannered Josh, a Cast Member in Fantasyland. But Josh didn't do it.
With Disney security closing in, Josh must unravel the devilish (and very Disneyish) riddles left by the murderer as clues.
The trail leads Josh from the Jungle Cruise and the Haunted Mansion to the other Disney World theme parks, both backstage and on the rides themselves, and then to a thrilling climax at Fantasmic!, where Josh and the murderer face their final battle high atop Mickey's island.
Written by a former Disney World VIP Tour Guide, Murder in the Magic Kingdom is brimming with backstage action, Disney trivia, and plenty of foul play.
Glossary of Disney Terms
Twenty chapters of edge-of-your suit whodunit in the Walt Disney World theme parks!
Annie Salisbury spent 1,164 days at The Walt Disney World Resort and probably ate about 7,000+ corn dog nuggets from Casey’s Corner in The Magic Kingdom. In contrast, she has never eaten a Turkey Leg. Her favorite attraction always has been, and always will be, The Haunted Mansion. She still remembers what it was like before the invention of FastPass, and thinks of that time as the good old days.
She has a fancy degree in Film & Television and looks forward to using it one day. She currently lives in Massachusetts with her family, where she is enjoying her newly earned non-Disney Look freedom. Annie would like to thank her fishy, her buddy, her princess, and Scotty.
She is the author of The Ride Delegate, also available from Theme Park Press.
The Jungle Cruise at night is no place for a cast member when a murderer prowls the hippo pool hunting his next victim.
Tommy stands amid the foliage near the bank of the hippo pool. By day, the Audio-Animatronic hippos delight passengers on the Jungle Cruise, but now, after park close, the hippos are silent and still. And fake. Without movement, they lose their semblance of life.
Impatient, Tommy checks the time on his iPhone. Within the next few days, he’ll start his training to become a Disney Imagineer. He’s heard stories of the Imagineers all his life, and from the moment he began working full-time as a Disney World Cast Member, that was his goal: to join these superior beings who could make inert hippos come alive. Tommy knew the training would be difficult, and he expected some Imagineer eccentricity, but standing here in the middle of Jungle Cruise, in the dark, waiting for his Imagineering mentor to share with him the solution to a riddle about this iconic attraction, and apparently teach him the first of many lessons, was past eccentric and approaching creepy.
Tommy had received the riddle on his iPhone earlier that day. He was given an hour to solve it. Stumped, he texted back defeat. A bad start. Tommy hoped it wasn’t so bad that it would get him booted out of the Imagineering program before it even began. But the mentor wasn’t angry; in fact, he said that not solving the riddle was the start of Tommy’s first lesson, which would be taught to him at the hippo pool, when no guests or other Cast Members would be around to spy on the magic.
Using his Cast ID, Tommy managed to enter the off-limits area around Jungle, and here he has been waiting for over half an hour, becoming more and more positive that someone has played a practical joke on him.
The voice came from the forest behind him. Tommy turned, but he could see no one in the dark foliage. “Yeah—uh, hello?”
There was no answer, so Tommy lit the screen of his iPhone and shone it in the direction of the voice. He heard a crunch as the large rock shattered his nose and broke his cheekbone. His iPhone sailed into the water. “Thanks for giving me a target,” the voice said, coming closer. “All that Little League finally paid off.”
The blood streaming from Tommy’s nose made it difficult for him to speak, so he gurgled instead.
“That riddle was simple, man. So damn simple. And you think you’re cut out to be an Imagineer? But hey, relax, I brought you new clothes. You’re getting blood all over yours. We’ll change in a minute. Just breathe easy - oh, my bad, you can’t. Let me take care of that...”
Tommy heard footsteps squelching over to him in the muddy dirt. He propped himself up on one elbow, and that’s when he felt the steel toe of a boot slam against his temple, and he went as inert as the hippos silently watching him from their pool.
Continued in "Murder in the Magic Kingdom"!
The hunt for the killer goes behind-the-scenes at the Haunted Mansion.
It’s been over an hour. David and I sit at a table outside next to Colombia Harbour House, and he eats some French fries while I drink a soda. We have not seen Rob pass by this area. I have tried to get his phone unlocked, but it’s no use. I need a phone call to get into it, and all I can do is send him emails from my phone to his phone that pop up on his lock screen, but it’s not like I can access them without the passcode.
The sun slowly starts setting over Tomorrowland off in the distance, and the trees scattered around Liberty Square begin to cast long shadows on the ground. Children are fast asleep in strollers, either because they’ve had a day chockful of adventure or their parents are insisting they stay out as late as possible to see the fireworks. It’s probably split 50/50. In the hour we’ve been sitting here, I’ve only heard three screaming children.
After a while, I wandered back over to Haunted Mansion and casually asked the Cast Member standing at the exit if he had seen anyone matching Rob’s description, but no one can remember one lone guy wearing a white v-neck t-shirt. It’s hard to remember guests as soon as they’re out of your eyesight, unless they spend a good deal of time yelling at you about something. I can still recall exact details from every guest who has reamed me out in front of Dumbo, but I can’t remember the guests I helped locate a lost stroller. It’s weird how the mind works like that. I wish I could remember the good moments, instead of the moments that made me want to drink heavily.
I feel bad making David sit at a table in the middle of the land and wait for seemingly nothing. He has stopped complaining for the most part, if only because I was the one that bought him his French fries with what little cash I grabbed from my room before we left for the day. It’s getting late. The park is going to start setting up for the parade soon. I tell him that it’s okay if we head home.
“Are you sure?” he asks, hesitantly.
“Yeah, I mean, maybe this was a waste. It’s probably a huge misunderstanding, and I’m not going to get arrested for murder tomorrow, and there’s no one out there who’s killing off new Imagineer Cast Members. This was silly. Sorry I wasted your day. Shit happens, and today it happened to me.” I realize for the first time just how exhausted I am. I’ve been up since the early hours of this morning, and I have been going non-stop all day. Just yesterday, I was overcoming a strange mysterious sickness—
“It’s all just a really weird coincidence. I got sick, I got sent home, someone checked costumes out under my ID number. It’s almost too much weird stuff to happen to one person. I could see one of those things happening to me, but all of them? It’s really weird, David. Can you at least admit that? This is all really weird? Maybe I can go back to security tomorrow and try to explain to them what I learned from our adventure today. Maybe they’ll be a little more lenient if I’m actually willing to work with them, considering that now I know a little bit more about what happened.”
“Why don’t you just write in to Guest Communications with your story of that time you were framed for murder at Walt Disney World. Bet you’ll get a comp stay in the Grand Floridian.”
Rob’s phone rings on the table, just like Tommy’s phone had rung earlier in the day. David reaches forward to grab it, but I’m faster. There’s no known contact name that populates the screen. “Hello?”
“Hey, where are you right now?” a female voice asks on the other end.
“Um, Magic Kingdom?” I ask, trying to sound as much like Rob as possible. David rolls his eyes.
“Great. Ugh, could you tell Nick to stop sending out these weird e-mails? I get it, he’s trying to be cute and funny, but he’s not. They’re annoying. I’m still at work,” the girl says.
“Yeah, uh, sure. Just tell me again, where does Nick work?”
There’s silence on the phone for a second. “He works in Frontierland, you know that.”
“Yeah, Frontierland, totally forgot. I’ll go tell him right now to stop sending them. Did you get another one?”
“I’m not playing along with this stupid game. This is no way for us to bond together as a team. I’m over it. Tommy was foolish to give into this in the first place. And look what’s happened to him.” The girl on the phone doesn’t sound like she knows Tommy is actually dead.
“Yeah, what happened to him again?”
“Uh, he got reprimanded? Didn’t he tell you? He was trying to get into some off-access location of Animal Kingdom and his managers got pissed. They could have pulled the fellowship right away. Ugh, my break is almost up, gotta go.”
“Bye…Sadie,” I say into the phone, because if I’m correct, this is the other soon-to-be Imagineer girl.
“Bye Rob,” she says, not even realizing that she’s not talking to Rob. She hangs up and I quickly close the call, being sure to leave the screen unlocked. Bingo.
“Didn’t Rob say that she was the “cool girl” of the Imagineering team or something? Honestly, I can’t remember. It was so long ago.”
“Can we go back to the Mansion one more time?” I’m up and moving before David can stop. I dart through the crowd as David tries to keep up as best he can. I’m at the exit before he has even crossed in front of the Mansion carriage house.
New wheelchairs have now replaced the old wheelchairs there, in the never-ending cycle of the Omnimover. I push past the guests exiting, heading right into the exit, usually a forbidden situation on any other day. But David and I weren’t gone for too long trying to find his phone. We were barely gone five minutes. I really doubt that Rob would have gotten up and wandered away from the area in that time without us noticing, or without telling us where he was going. Sure, maybe I did just meet the kid earlier today, but we were working toward the same goal of trying to figure out what happened to Tommy.
There’s a door in the middle of the Haunted Mansion exit. You’re really not supposed to go out that door, ever. Cast Members don’t often use the door, because all it does is take you around the backside of the building toward Fantasyland. Mansion’s break room is actually inside of the building, split between the first floor and the hidden attic. The well-lit first floor has a table that is nestled in the bypass hallway that no one ever uses unless they’re exiting out of the ride before the Stretch Room. The second break room is located up a hidden flight of stairs in the queue area. It’s a cramped stairwell, illuminated by black lights that bring you up a flight and a half until you’re basically at the same height as the top of the Stretch Room. That’s where the bathroom in the Mansion is located. And yes, it’s really unnerving trying to use the bathroom when you can hear the cackles of the Ghost Host literally on the other side of the wall.
Rob’s not from this park. I doubt he knows the ins and outs of the attraction. But he might have noticed this door.
I wait for a break in the guests exiting out of their Doom Buggies so no one sees me push open the heavy door and step through to the other side. I immediately hit a staircase that takes me down a few steps and into a little alleyway that is sort of next to Mansion, sort of behind the Tangled bathrooms. It’s a spot I’ve been in a hundred times before, but rarely do I ever come from the Mansion side of it. This is where I usually duck out if I just can’t deal with guests in the park and I want a second of quiet before I have to go back to managing the ever wrapping “small world” queue. I reach the side of the Mansion building, when I feel one of the phones in my pocket vibrate. It’s my phone.
“Where did you go?” David asks on the other end.
“I’m behind Mansion, I’m backstage.”
“You are not a Cast Member, and you don’t have an ID.”
“I’ll be careful. I’ll be back in a few, okay?”
“I’m going to awkward sit here by the bathrooms and wait for you to come back. I’m over by one of the charging stations. I’m going to plug my phone in.” David’s end of the phone clicks, and I shove the phone back into my pocket. Then, the second phone rings.
There isn’t a number displayed on the screen. It says UNKNOWN. “Hello?”
Off in the distance, I hear a very loud thud. For a second, I think it’s coming from inside the park, but with the line of trees and the giant buildings, it’s actually hard for sound to transfer from backstage to onstage, and vice versa. It’s not from inside Fantasyland. I dart around the corner of the building, which opens into a much larger space between Haunted Mansion and the building directly next to it, “small world”. Yes, “small world” and Haunted Mansion are actually only about fifteen feet apart backstage, but onstage trying to get from one to the other is like swimming upstream.
The area is deserted, except for the lone metal folding chair or random parking cone left over from some sort of maintenance work, whenever it last happened. Directly in front of me sits “small world”. To my right, there’s a gate that will take me into Fantasyland, and I’ll come out right in the thicket of the strollers at the Tangled bathrooms. To my left lies the rest of backstage. I turn left and hurry down the small hill, which brings me to the bottom of the building.
There are some random departments that have storage space back here; some scenic arts does their work out of one of the makeshift sheds, and maintenance is also back here. It’s not that exciting, really. Further on down, though, is the Cast Member bus turn-around for where the bus drops off and picks up Cast Members leaving the park. It’s a heavily congested area, because this is also where deliveries for the park happen, too. Some food trucks head over to Park 1 and unload there, but only for places like Tony’s and Crystal Palace and some parts of Tomorrowland. Everything else happens here at the mouth of the Mouse. I can see that there are two Disney buses ready and waiting to take Cast Members away from the park.
I hear someone scream. A loud, shrill, blood-curdling scream.
Continued in "Murder in the Magic Kingdom"!