Monday didn’t start as I was used to. Instead of a taxi, Gloria drove me to the airport after dropping Tammy off at school.
“How do you like this family man stuff?” She asked.
I smiled as I watched the red lights ahead. A storm, typical for this time of year, had passed through the area the night before. Litter on the freeway had traffic slowed to a crawl as people dodged around debris from an overturned truck.
Emergency services had several lanes blocked. I wondered if I would make my flight.
“I am glad that you are there for Tammy. I overheard her lamenting to a friend about some cliquish girls at school.”
Mean girls were a thing, with narcissism at the root of the problem. Social media with posts of young ladies making duck lips and taking selfies was rampant. It was all fake nonsense, creating an illusion of a life filled with money, power, and privilege, which again was fake as their nails.
“She and I have spoken about this. Tammy is bright. I think she will figure it out.”
Since we adopted her after our marriage, Tammy has been the brightest thing in our lives. I had to decide between staying home and not working just to be there for them.
Gloria convinced me that was not who I was. While we didn’t need the money, she knew that working in forensic computing was what I did best.
The calls were a constant as people writing viruses, ransomware, and such were still out there attempting to scam money from companies with deep pockets.
If they knew about me and my rate of success, they might think a little harder before casting their wares out on the cyber sea of fish. Sharks in those waters don’t take kindly to extortion, and I was all too happy to chum the waters, leading the sharks to the jerks.
My goal was to put myself out of business.
Security didn’t change. Even in the pre-check fast lane, I still had to wait in long lines.
Edna, one of Gloria’s coworkers and friends, greeted me as I was in the ocean, searching for an enemy submarine.
“Oh, hey, how are you?” I asked, putting my novel in the seat's pocket in front of me.
“I am upset with you,” she said with a smirk.
“Me, what did I do?”
“I miss Gloria. I enjoyed working with her.”
I sat back, peering at her short blond hair and blue eyes.
“You know about her sister, right?”
She nodded, “I guess she is Mommy Gloria now.”
I smiled and nodded. “God was at work, and I didn’t know it. Tammy surely feels we are blessing her, but she blesses us daily. Neither of us could imagine life any other way.”
“Most teenage girls are not the bundle of joy you are making her out to be. Mine told me she hated me the other day.”
I pinched my lips, thinking about what that must have felt like.
“Ouch, that had to hurt.”
Edna didn’t admit it. I could tell it hurt her. “She is at that age. I would like to say I understand her, but I don’t. My mother slapped my face when I said dumb things like that. Got to go do my job; talk to you later.”
I made a note to speak with Gloria about Edna before returning to my book.
High seas tossed the ship about as rogue waves almost scuttled the boat. The captain was doing his utmost to keep the ship from capsizing.
The rough seas gave me a vision of my one cruise. Water from the pool sloshed off the top deck onto the decks below as we hit rough water because of a storm in the Gulf. That was the last family vacation I had with my folks. They were on the balcony and went missing in that same storm.
I closed the book as the plane finally launched off the runway. That storyline was hitting too close to home for me to continue. I tucked the paperback in the seat pocket for the next passenger.
I thought about what my parents would say about how I turned out.
I had more in common with Tammy than I let on. My parents had good life insurance, and I was much older when that accident happened.
My mind wandered back to Tammy and how we met. She became an orphan after losing her parents to a fool who thought he could take drugs and drive a big rig.
Gloria was adjusting to becoming an instant mom, and I wondered if Tammy would ever get to that stage where she would utter the words, I hate you. I couldn’t believe she could do it, and I empathized with Edna.
Screaming from the back of the plane caught me off guard. I turned around to see a man with a gun.
Playing the part of an average passenger, I needed to wait until I had an opportunity. I might have a chance if this went the way I assumed it might.
Appearing to read the book and pretending I was hard of hearing, I ignored the gunman. I even put my headphones on to appear unaware of what was happening.
The anxiety was so intense you could cut it with a knife. Everyone focused on him and wondered what he might do. Everyone, that is, except me. I simply turned the page as if I was unaware of his presence.
Never underestimate your opponent, and he did. After he hit a hysterical woman in the head with the butt of his gun, I made it a goal to kill him. The weapon would be the fire extinguisher behind him. I just needed the distraction. I unbuckled my belt and waited.
We had been in the air less than an hour, headed to California.
I tried to keep a low profile until I could determine if he was working alone. I desired to limit the threat level and mitigate my risk. I wanted to know if I was alone regarding resistance to this hijacking.
A man in the back dressed in the airline clothes of a ramp rat came up to the front of the plane with a gun pointed at Edna.
“Tell them to unlock the door.”
There was no way the captain was going to unlock the cabin door.
A strange twist to the plot was when a third man that appeared to be a mechanic had another gun and parachutes.
Parachutes? I thought.
We had a standoff.
The mechanic went to the back. His job was to execute passengers, one every minute, until the captain opened the door.
A shot echoed up the corridor as screams from passengers confirmed that the first minute was gone, as was one soul.
I gritted my teeth.
The killing of innocent civilians was one of the most cowardly actions I could think of. I might have seemed obtuse, but inside I was beyond manic.
The captain should have changed the air mixture, causing these bozos to pass out. That’s not what happened.
The plane turned as a spray of bullets went through the cabin door into the cockpit.
Explosive decompression was something few have experienced. I had, and I knew what to expect.
We were at 30,000 feet. Edna dropped to her knees before passing out. All hell broke loose in the cabin, with papers flying toward the door.
Napkins flew around as if there was a cyclone among us.
Those still standing crashed into the cabin door with the nose of the aircraft at a downward angle. Someone in the back wrestled the gun away from the mechanic.
Another shot echoed from the back as the mechanic was out of the picture. With the man up front distracted, I punched him in the rib cage, taking what wind he still had inside of him away.
He hit the deck.
The windows frosted up as the temperature dropped below freezing rather quickly. I could only surmise that the captain was still alive or the autopilot took over as the plane leveled.
A few more minutes and I would lose consciousness. The fire extinguisher hit the back of his head with a crushing blow. The wild eyes of the third person knew his fate.
It shocked me when he tried to open the emergency exit. With the parachute on rather improperly, he did his best.
I pointed the gun at him before he left the airplane through the explosive removal of the emergency exit door. All the flying paper went out the door with him, much like flushing a toilet. The crap left before everything else.
Jumping out of a jet at altitude and speed would not end well. Had he failed to open the door, I would have shot him.
The oxygen masks were down, and I grabbed one.
Taking the fire extinguisher to his head again, I saw brains and blood and figured he was no longer a threat. I wanted to ensure he would never darken the doorstep of another human being.
The cockpit door was the next obstacle. I felt lightheaded, and the cold was doing a number on me.
Many passengers had frost on their faces, hair, and clothes. I had to get through that door.
I took his gun and shot where the locking bar would be. Using the butt of the gun like a club, I made a hole large enough to see blood, broken windows, and frost-covered controls.
If I could not gain control of the craft, we were doomed. I had mere seconds of consciousness’ left at this altitude and temperature.
Either the plane would crash when it ran out of fuel or, worse, they would shoot us down where we would do the slightest amount of damage on the ground, most probably over a large body of water.
Edna was covered in blood and frost as she lay there. I couldn’t waste even a second to check on her. Time was of the essence. Every second counted.
My arm barely fit through the hole. The latch gave way, and I had access. The body of the terrorist blocked the door from opening, and I was weak as a puppy.
A man who looked like an abominable snowman crawled up from the back of the plane, saw my dilemma, and pulled the man on the floor out of the way.
Crimson fluid covered his otherwise business shirt. I guess he was military and had similar training in survival.
We pulled the captain out of his chair so I could take control. The aircraft must get below 14,000 feet. I had to get us down where there was air and warmer temperatures.
Setting the transponder to squawk the emergency code 7700, I set my sights on losing altitude. Once that thing sent out that code, all air traffic in the area would yield to this aircraft.
My vision was fading as stars blinded my eyesight. I fought to stay awake as I adjusted the dials on the autopilot to what I hoped was 10,000 feet.
My body felt surreal, as if my limbs were not my own. In college, at a frat party, I got drunk once. This felt worse than that. My arms dropped, and the stars faded to darkness.
The sun shone brightly at an airfield in Lancaster. My neighbor, who I dearly loved, was a pilot and ex-Air Force. He owned a couple of airplanes. “Hey Danny, want to go for a ride?”
My grin was undoubtedly unmistakable. I was fourteen, and my neighbor was the coolest dad on the block.
We were in the air over Love Field in Dallas when he let me take the controls. I would never have joined the Air Force if it had not been for him.
That was a pivotal time in my life. He was more than my neighbor or the father of my beloved; he was a flight instructor and a leader of men.
He was a role model. After that fateful cruise where I lost my parents, he offered to teach me to drive. I wanted to hold on to that memory, but things changed.
Much like switching a channel on TV, I was under fire. My plane was hit. I parachuted from the burning plane, landing close to the guys I supported. We became brothers that day with a common goal, to stay alive.
The enemy was everywhere. I remember the coppery odor of blood as I drove my bayonet deep into one man’s chest and slit another man’s throat.
I thought I had expunged those memories, but that was not the case. Much like monsters in the night, they attack when you least expect them.
We survived the night, huddling together with the stench of dead men, ours and theirs. I tried to crawl out of the trench when the tingling pain in my hands and feet alerted me that something was hitting my face.
“Dan, can you hear me?”
I shook my head, trying to get the fog out. “Edna, you're alive.”
She nodded, "Thanks to you.”
Beads of water covered everything. We had a military escort, and we were at 10,000.
Edna got me a blanket as I was shivering. The rest of the crew took inventory of the passengers and the damage to the aircraft.
I put on the headphones and talked to our escorts. “Don’t shoot; I am at the controls.”
“That's a load off; who are you?”
“Dan Smith, Colonel Smith to you.”
I wanted them to know I had this.
“Colonel Smith. Air Force?”
“Yea, it’s me. Where are we?”
“I am sure I have wounded or dead folks on board. Get me on the ground and have ambulances standing by.”
“Do you need help with a 737?”
“Na, it’s just a bigger version of the A10, right?”
“It’s whatever you say it is, sir. Glad you’re awake.”
“You have no idea.”
It is common to have a plane full of corpses when explosive decompression occurs. I prayed I acted fast enough to avoid those casualties.
“You have what looks like a body hanging off the wing.”
“Yea, you don’t jump from a plane at 500 knots and 30,000.”
“No, sir, that guy was not a rocket scientist.”
I had been out for well over an hour, as had most of the passengers. The captain and co-pilot attempted to return to Dallas when they were killed.
Edna stayed behind until they removed the last body from the plane. Investigators from multiple agencies were everywhere.
Medical people tended to my wounds when I noticed the screen on the TV showing footage of the aircraft. I was mentioned by name.
All I could think of was Gloria and Tammy; undoubtedly, they were scared to death.
I stood when they tried to stop me.
“I have two ladies at home that need to hear my voice. Back off!”
“Be careful what you disc….”
If my looks could kill, that man would be toast. He shut his face as his boss gave him a disapproving glance.
“Edna already called me sweetie. Are you ok?”
“I am now. How are you, and does Tammy know?”
“I'm fine, and yes, someone found the news bulletin on their phone. She was hysterical. Tammy is still very fragile. She thought she was going to lose you. I have to admit I did too. I went and got her at the school. For what it’s worth, they were praying for you. Even Edna’s daughter prayed with her until I got there.”
“Damit, hasn’t that kid seen enough tragedy in her life? I am so very sorry.”
“Hey, God had you there for a reason; Edna told me you saved everyone’s life.”
“I had help.”
“Your modesty drives me nuts, Dan. You’re a hero.”
I clenched my teeth, looking back at the room full of officials. “Heroism is not something I ascribe to myself. I killed a man, and it makes me sick.”
“I am sure that you did what you had to do. Take care of yourself and come home.”
“Colonel, do you know who these people were?”
I shook my head. “They were not after me if that's what you think.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time someone tried to kill you; how do you know?”
“They were attempting to hijack the plane. I was there if they wanted to kill me; I was an easy target.”
The parachutes were the smoking gun. They were after me. Someone in my small circle is stalking me for someone.
They were looking at pictures of the guy with the bashed head.
“You didn’t have to kill that man.”
“Who said I killed him? There was lots of turbulence when he shot up the controls.”
“That’s your story?”
They all nodded, making notes of the events. “What about the guy hanging on the plane? Did you know the temperature at that altitude froze him solid?”
I chuckled. “He had to be the dumbest hijacker in all of history.”
“We don’t know who he was. He lost his head from a strap not secured correctly.”
Somewhere in the heartland is a head with no body attached.
I knew they were looking for me. I must have a bounty on my head.
One Oligarch was already gone. How do I catch the one that is after me while keeping my new family safe?
This is precisely why I never married, and I lived alone. Now I am vulnerable. I needed to solve this puzzle, and it started with my assistant.
What Reedsy prompt will inspire Part IV of this story?