An appealing 15-year-old genius-prankster does what the combined forces of the Free World can't: he makes fools of a team of vicious terrorists and saves a school full of rich and innocent children. Sharif has hit on the bold-stroke terrorist act that will humble the US and lend weight to his claim to be leader of the Arab world. Forces loyal to him seize a boarding school on the outskirts of Rome that's attended by sons of American superstars--congressmen, industrial leaders, a Mafia chief. The terrorists stuff the ancient building with explosives and threaten to kill a boy a day until their demands are met. President Reynolds is desperate enough to scrap his non-negotiating rule and bargain with Sharif; Colonel William Smiles and his Delta Rescue Force are on full alert outside the school; and intelligence operations everywhere are lending a covert hand. In the meantime, hostage Billy Tepper--scrappy bad-boy, electronics whiz, and navigator of the ventilation ducts--is checking out the situation. He sends a message via his computer to the rescue squad, promising to distract the TV monitors that the thugs are using to monitor the grounds; ushers students and teachers to safety in a secret wine-cellar; and even disables the detonator controlling the explosives. The rescue team, cozy in the hope of a negotiated release, passes. . .until mastermind Sharif is murdered, derailing hopes for a peaceful solution. The situation is contrived and its evolution predictable, but Kennedy (The Masakado Lesson, 1986) cuts fluidly from Smiles' headquarters to White House strategy sessions to (best fun) the whirl of schemes in Billy's head. Despite a silly denouement, then, smart, well-oiled action.