The air hostess smiled: ‘Welcome aboard, sir. Would you like a newspaper?’
‘Yes, please.’ Carl took the newspaper and looked at his at his ticket. ‘I’m in seat 5F. Where’s that?’
‘It’s near the front of the plane, sir. On the left, there. By the window.’
‘I see. Thank you very much.’ Carl smiled back at the air hostess. She is young and pretty, just like my daughter he thought.
He put his bag under his seat and sat down. His friend Harold sat beside him. They watched the other passengers coming on to the plane. Harold looked at his watch.
‘9:30 p.m.,’ he said. ‘Good. We’re on time.’
Carl agreed. ‘And in three hours we’ll be home,’ he said. ‘That’s good. We’ve been
away for a long time. You’ll be pleased to see your family, won’t you, Harold?’
Harold smiled. ‘Yes, I will. Have you seen this, sir?’ he opened his bag and took out two small toy planes. ‘These are for my sons. I always bring something back for them.’
‘How old are your sons?’ Carl asked.
‘Five and almost seven. The older one has a birthday tomorrow.’
‘He’ll be very excited tonight then.’
‘Yes. I hope he gets some sleep.’
The plane took off. Carl watched the lights of the airport grow smaller below them.
Then the plane flew above the clouds and he could see the moon and the stars in the night sky. He lay back in his seat and closed his eyes.
Later, he woke up. Harold was asleep. Carl looked at his watch. It was midnight. He called the air hostess.
‘Excuse me. What time do we arrive?’
‘11:30 p.m. local time, sir. That’s about half an hour from now.’
‘Thank you.’ Carl changed the time on his watch.
‘Anything else, sir?’
‘No, I don’t think so. Oh, wait a minute, may I have a cup of coffee, please?’
‘Yes, of course, sir.’ He watched her bring the coffee.
‘She walks like my daughter, too,’ he thought. ‘And she is very young. She looks nervous, not sure what to do.’
‘How long have you been a stewardess?’ he asked.
She smiled. ‘I have been a stewardess for three months, since November, sir,’ she said.
‘Do you like it?’
‘Yes, I love it. It’s very exciting.’ She smiled nervously, ‘Will that be all, sir?’
‘Yes, thank you’
‘Have a nice flight.’
He drank the coffee and started to read his newspaper. When Harold woke up, Carl showed him a page in the paper.
‘Look. There you are,’ he said. He pointed to a picture. In the middle of the picture stood Carl himself – a short, thin man with grey hair, wearing a suit. Behind him, on the left, was Harold – a tall, strong young man, like a sportsman. Both men were smiling. ‘That’s you and me, outside the embassy,’ said Carl. ‘We’re in the news again. You can show it to your sons. You’re a famous man, Harold!’
Harold laughed. ‘You’re the famous man, sir, not me,’ he said. ‘I’m just a police officer, a bodyguard. It’s my job to take care of you. That’s a photo of you, not me.’
‘Perhaps. But your children will think that you’re a famous man, I’m sure. Here, take it, and show it to them.’
‘OK. Thanks.’ Harold smiled, and put the newspaper in his coat pocket. ‘I think I’ll have a cup of coffee, too.’ He called for the air hostess, but she didn’t come. Harold looked surprised.
‘What’s the matter?’ Carl asked.
‘The air hostess,’ Harold said. ‘She’s sitting down talking to those two men.’
Carl looked up and saw the young air hostess. She was sitting in a seat at the front of the plane with two young men. They looked worried and nervous. Suddenly, one of the young men picked up a bag and walked into the pilot’s cabin! The other man and the air hostess followed him.
‘That’s strange,’ said Carl. ‘What are they doing?’
‘I don’t know. It’s very strange,’ said Harold. ‘I don’t like it at all.’ He began to get out of his seat, but then stopped and sat down again.
For one or two minutes nothing happened. None of the other passengers moved or spoke. They had seen the young men, too. It became very quiet in the plane.
A bell rang, and for a moment they could hear two voices arguing. Then the pilot spoke.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Captain speaking. Please do not be afraid. There is a change of plan. We have to land at another airport before we finish our flight. There’s no danger. We will land in fifteen minutes. Please stay in your seats and keep calm. Thank you.’
Then the stewardess came out of the cabin. She looked very different now because she had a machine gun in her hand. She stood at the front of the plane and watched the passengers carefully. One of the passengers called to the stewardess.
'Excuse me, can I have a blanket, please?' he asked.
'Shut up,' the stewardess answered. 'Can't you see that I am busy hijacking this plane?'
'I will never fly with Ryanair again,' the passenger said.
‘Here we are, madam.’ The big black car stopped and a police officer opened the back door.
‘Thank you.’ Helen Sandberg smiled at him as she got out. Another police officer opened the front door of her house.
Inside the house it was quiet. Her daughter was reading. She put the book down.
‘Hello, Mommy. You’re late. You said you’d be home by ten o’clock. I wanted to talk to you about my homework, remember?’
Helen sat down. ‘I’m sorry, who are you?'
'I'm Sarah, your only daughter,' said the young girl.
''Hello Sarah, I had a very busy day. Anyway, I’m home now. I did remember about your homework. What’s the problem?’
‘It’s this book,’ said Sarah. ‘I have to write about it at school on Friday, and I don’t understand it.’
‘Don't worry, Sarah. Maybe you aren't smart enough to understand the book,' said Helen. ‘Bring the book into the kitchen and I’ll look at it while you make me a cup of coffee with a little whiskey.’
They sat in the kitchen and talked for nearly half an hour. Then Helen looked at her watch. ‘OK, Sarah, that’s enough for now. It’s almost midnight, and I must be up at six tomorrow. I’m going to bed. Goodnight.’
Alone in her bedroom, she undressed and got into the big, empty bed. She was very tired, she closed her eyes and three minutes later she was asleep.
The phone rang at 12:15 a.m.
Helen groaned, and picked it up.
‘Hello… What?… Who?… Do you know what time it is?’
She ran her hand through her hair and turned the light on. ‘What, now? I don’t believe it. Are you sure?’
The voice on the telephone explained carefully. Helen groaned again, and sat up. ‘I
hope it is serious. If it isn’t, somebody is going to be in big trouble… yes… All right… Send the car in fifteen minutes, then. And bring me some coffee! Goodbye.’
She put the phone down and got out of bed. Outside the window she could hear a strong wind blowing.
Twenty minutes later she was sitting in the back of her big black car, drinking a cup of coffee and talking to the Chief of Airport Police on the car telephone. It was raining heavily.
Carl looked out of the plane window. It was very dark and rainy. It was a small airport with only one or two other planes. But there were three police cars near the airport building.
‘I don’t understand,’ he said quietly in Harold’s ear. ‘Why are we here?’
Harold looked worried. ‘Don’t ask me,’ he whispered back. ‘Ask them, the people with the guns.’
‘No thanks,’ Carl looked at the hijackers. The young air hostess was still standing at the front of the plane with her machine gun. One of the young men, also with a machine gun, was standing at the back of the plane. The other hijacker was in the captain’s cabin. All the passengers sat very quietly in their seats.
A bell rang and a man’s voice spoke.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, listen to me. This is the People’s Liberation Army. This plane is ours now, and you are our prisoners. We do not want to hurt you, but as you can see, we have our guns and we know how to shoot. So please, sit quietly in your seats and do what we say. We will be here for one or two hours. The government of this country has two of our brothers in a prison near this airport. We are asking the government to bring our two brothers to this plane. When our brothers are free, you will be free. We think this will take one or two hours, but not very long. As you know, the Prime Minister of this country is only a woman. She will do what we say. So do not worry. Just sit very still and wait a little while. The film tonight will be The Muppet Movie. Goodnight.’
Carl looked at Harold. ‘Oh dear,’ he whispered. ‘I think we’re in trouble, my young friend. Big trouble.’
‘Yes, we are in trouble. I’ve already seen The Muppet Movie,’ Harold said.
‘That’s not what I meant, you idiot,’ said Carl. ‘I mean about the hijackers.’
Harold agreed. ‘Oh that. Yes, we certainly are in trouble. The government won’t set those two men free. They tried to put a bomb on a plane last year, didn’t they, sir? They’re in prison for thirty years.’
‘I know,’ Carl whispered. ‘No one could set them free. So what about us?’
‘What about you, you mean,’ whispered Harold. ‘I’m not important. Look, sir, you should give me your passport.’
‘Ssh!’ Harold put his hand on the older man’s arm and stopped talking. Carl looked up and saw the young air hostess staring at them. Her machine gun was pointing at them, too. He stopped talking and looked out of the window.
After a few minutes she stopped watching them. ‘Give me the passport, sir.’ Harold whispered very quietly. Very slowly and carefully, Carl took it out of this pocket and gave it to him.
There was still some coffee in Carl’s cup. Very carefully, Harold put the passport on his tray and poured the coffee onto it. When passport was very wet, he tore it slowly into little pieces. He was a strong young man and because the passport was wet, it did not make a sound. Then, one by one, he put the pieces of wet paper into his mouth and ate them.
‘Do you want some ketchup with that?’ asked Carl.
In ten minutes, the passport disappeared. Harold ate all of it and burped quietly.
‘I don’t understand,’ whispered Carl. ‘Why did you do that?’
‘You’ll see,’ whispered Harold. ‘But when they ask questions, let me answer, sir. OK? Don't say anything. Just keep your big, fat mouth shut. Do you understand?’
‘OK.’ Carl looked away, out of the window. A large black car was just driving up to airport building.
The black car stopped outside the airport building and a police officer opened the door. Helen Sandberg got out and went quickly inside. Upstairs, in the control room, the Chief of Airport Police, Inspector Holm, was waiting with a soldier. Helen’s secretary, Michael, was there, too.
‘Good evening, Prime Minister,’ said Inspector Holm. ‘This is Colonel Carter, of the
Special Commando Section.’
‘Good evening, Colonel.’ Helen shook hands with the soldier and looked at him. He was a thin, tough-looking man, about forty years old, with a brown face. His hand was hard and strong. ‘I hope you know your job,’ she thought. ‘I may need you.’
She looked out of the window. There was a large plane on the tarmac about two hundred meters away. All its lights were on. ‘Is that the plane?’ she asked.
‘That’s it, Prime Minister.’
‘Right, give me the facts. How many people are on it?’
Inspector Holm answered. ‘One hundred and eight passengers, five crew.’
‘What nationalities are they?’
‘There are twenty-nine Americans, fifteen British, two Brazilian, and one Chinese. The others are from this country.’
‘I see. There are a lot of Americans and British, then,’ said Helen quietly. ‘That means trouble. Americans are always a lot of trouble. They complain about everything. And British people are horrible, too.’
‘Yes, Prime Minister,’ answered Michael. ‘I’m afraid their ambassadors are on their way here now.’
Helen smiled at him quickly. He was a good secretary; he usually knew what she was thinking. Both the American Ambassador and the British Ambassador were difficult people. She turned back to Inspector Holm.
‘Tell me about the hijackers. What do they want?’
‘We don’t know how many hijackers there are, Prime Minister. But they have guns, we know that. They say they are from the People’s Liberation Army. And they want three things.’ Inspector Holm paused and looked down at her. He was a very tall man and he looked very important in his uniform. Helen didn’t like him much.
‘Yes, well. What three things?’ she asked quickly.
‘First, they say we must set free their two brothers from prison. You remember,
Prime Minister, two men tried to put a bomb on a plane last year. They are in prison near here.’
‘I remember,’ Helen answered softly. ‘They’re in prison for thirty years, aren’t they?’
‘I think so. Something like that.’ The man paused. ‘Second, they say we must refuel the plane because they want to fly to another country. Third, they say we must put this in all our newspapers. It says they are fighting for freedom for their people. They are freedom fighters. They want to liberate their people. Oh, they want one more thing. They want two pizzas from Telepizza with mushrooms and ham and they don't want to pay. They said our country must pay for the pizzas."
'OK,' said the Prime Minister, 'but they must pay for the drinks. We are a poor country.'
Her secretary gave her a sheet of paper. Helen put in on the table. She did not read it. ‘And what about the passengers?’ she asked. ‘When will the hijackers set them free?’
‘They say they will set most of the passengers free when their brothers fly away with them. They will set the other passengers free when they arrive.’
‘There’s one other thing, Prime Minister,’ Colonel Carter spoke for the first time. His voice was almost gentle. ‘They say we must bring the prisoners to the airport in two hours. If not, they will kill a passenger. They said this one hour ago.’
‘So we have one hour left?’
‘That’s right, Prime Minister. Just one hour. Then they will kill the first passenger.’
‘I see.’ Helen walked slowly to the window and stared out at the plane. It was still
raining and a strong wind was blowing. She turned around.
‘Thank you, gentlemen. I will have to talk to them. But first I need a few minutes. Colonel Carter, Inspector, please go to the other room. Tell the hijackers I will talk to them in five minutes. Michael, stay here.’
‘Yes, madam.’ Inspector Holm looked unhappy, but he went out, slowly, with the Colonel. Michael sat quietly, looking at her. He knew what she was thinking.
‘Have you got the passenger list, Michael?’
‘Yes, Prime Minister. Here you are.’
She picked up the list of names and looked at it carefully. ‘Oh, my God!’ Her husband’s name was near the beginning. She dropped the list, sat down at the table, and ran her hands through the hair. For a long time she said nothing. Then she looked up.
‘This is going to be very difficult, isn’t it, Michael?’
‘I’m afraid so, Prime Minister. Very difficult indeed.’
Helen stood up and walked to the window, thinking hard. Outside in the rain, the
American Ambassador’s car stopped by the door.
Carl looked through the window and watched the cars arrive at the airport building.
There were a lot of cars now and a lot of lights in the building. Inside the plane it was hot and quiet. There was nothing to do but watch The Muppet Movie. The movie was very funny and he soon forgot all about the hijackers. He remembered other times when he had been on a plane at night with his wife and daughter. That was fun because they were excited and going on holiday. His daughter had always asked lots questions on the plane. Now no one said anything at all. Carl sat and thought, and felt his face becoming wet with sweat.
‘Your passport, please!’
‘What?’ He turned suddenly. One of the hijackers, a young man in a black shirt, was just behind them. He had a bag in his hand and he was taking everyone’s passports and putting them in it.
‘Be quiet!’ Harold whispered. ‘Let me talk, sir. Remember?’
‘Your passport, please.’ The young man stood by their seats.
‘Here you are.’ Harold gave the man his passport.
‘Thank you. And his?’
Harold burped again.
'Do you smell that? It smells like a passport,' said the hijacker.
'I don't smell anything,' Harold said quickly, then he added, ‘This man has no passport. I am a police officer and he is my prisoner. I am taking him to prison in my country.’
‘I see.’ The young man looked at them both in surprise. ‘Stand up, you!’
Carl stood up and the young man searched his pockets, but he found nothing. He told Carl to sit down, then he opened Harold’s passport and looked inside. ‘Police pig.’ he said.
‘Now you are our prisoner!’ Then he hit Harold in the face, looked at Carl, and laughed.
‘And perhaps we will set him free.’
Harold said nothing. The hijacker was about the same age as him, but not as big. The young hijacker laughed again and moved on to the next seat.
‘Thank you, Harold,’ Carl whispered, when the man was at the front of the plane. ‘That was very brave. But I won’t let you die for me, you know.’
‘Be quiet, sir,’ Carl whispered.
One of the men was standing in the door of the captain’s cabin. He was talking to the other two. He was a strong man, with a black beard. He looked angry and waved his arms. Carl listened carefully. He could hear one or two words, but not many.
‘…nothing! Nothing at all!… stupid woman!… the Prime Minister needs time, she says…,’ said the hijacker.
All the hijackers were angry now. They looked at a passport and then started to walk down the aisle, pointing their guns at the passengers. Harold sat very still in his seat.
‘Don’t look at them, Carl,’ he whispered. ‘Sit very still and don’t look at them.’
Suddenly the big hijacker pulled a passenger out of his seat. The passenger was a short fat man in a grey suit. He shouted angrily in a voice that sounded American, but the hijacker hit him and then pushed him to the front of the plane with his machine gun.
‘Turn towards the door!’ he shouted. ‘Put your hands on the door! Above your head! Higher! That’s it!’
The air hostess pointed her gun at the American’s back. The hijacker in the black shirt stood at the front of the plane and pointed his gun at the passengers.
‘Don’t move!’ he shouted. ‘Stay in your seats and don’t look back!’ Then the big, bearded hijacker went back into the captain’s cabin.
The bell rang. The hijacker’s voice spoke.
‘Passengers! Listen to me! You know we are here to set our brothers free. I have spoken to the Prime Minister of this country. I told her she must bring our brothers here by two o’clock. That is plenty of time because the prison is only ten kilometers from here. She says she needs more time, but we know she is lying. We have no time. The passenger at the front of the plane is a fat American spy who lives in our country. All Americans who live in our country are spies. If our brothers are not here at two o’clock, he will die. If you try to help him, you will die, too.’
The American passenger started crying just like a little baby. 'Oh please don't kill me, please. I'm too young to die. I'm only 63 years old. Why don't you kill an English passenger. No one likes English people.'
‘Jesus, what a baby. Just die like a man and shut up,’ Carl said quietly. He looked at his watch. The time was 1:50 a.m. He looked out of the window across the rainy tarmac to the airport building. In one of those rooms was the Prime Minister. What would she do? What could she do? What should she do?‘Come on, honey,’ he said softly. ‘Start thinking. Think fast, honey. And think hard!’
Helen Sandberg sat at radio in the control room. Michael, Inspector Holm, and
Colonel Carter sat behind her. They could all see the plane, two hundred meters away, and they could all hear the voice of the hijacker on the radio. It was loud, excited.
‘Our brothers have done nothing wrong. They are innocent! They are fighters for the freedom of our people! We need them with us on this plane, now!’
Helen kept her voice low and calm. ‘Look, I understand what you say. But those men are criminals; they’re in prison. I can’t bring them here. And remember. The passengers on the plane are innocent people too, with families and children. Please set them free. We will not hurt you. We…’
The voice on the radio interrupted her. ‘Mrs. Sandberg! I do not want to talk any more.
It is now 1:59 a.m. Do you have our brothers here, at the airport?’
‘No. I told you …’
‘Then watch the front door of the plane. You can see it well, I hope?’
‘Yes.’ Helen’s voice was quiet now, almost a whisper.
‘Then watch. There is an American spy behind it. And remember, we have many American spies, and many important business people on this plane. In half an hour I will ask you again about my brothers.’
Helen stared out at the plane. Its front door was very small and far away. Colonel Carter touched her arm.
‘Here are some binoculars, Prime Minister. You will be able to see clearly with these.’
She did not want to look, but she had to. She had decided not to free the prisoners, so now she had to see what happened to the passengers. She picked up the binoculars and stared at the front door of the plane.
The door opened slowly. There were no steps outside the door, so it was four meters above the ground. Standing in the door was a short fat man, his hands above his head.
His face was white and he looked very frightened. Then he jumped. But as he jumped, a girl came to the door and shot him. Some bullets hit him in the air and more bullets hit him as he lay on the ground. One of his arms moved a little and blood ran out of the side of his arms onto tarmac. The girl continued shooting him for ten, maybe fifteen seconds. Then someone pulled her back into the plane and closed the door.
For a long time everyone was silent. Then Colonel Carter spoke. ‘Inspector, why didn’t your men shoot? That girl was in the doorway for nearly fifteen seconds! Why isn’t she dead?’
‘We are police officers, not soldiers. I… ’ But the Colonel interrupted him.
‘Prime Minister, let my men deal with this problem. They have killed a man now and they’ll kill another one in half an hour. We must attack that plane! We are commandos; we know how to do it.’
Helen was still watching the dead body of the man on the tarmac. She thought a hand moved for a moment; but no, he must be dead by now. There was a pool of blood on the tarmac now around his head. He could not possibly be alive. For a moment she did not hear the voices around her. In half an hour…
‘Yes.’ She turned towards them. ‘Yes. Colonel Carter, bring your men here,
immediately. Meet me in ten minutes with your plan. But I warn you, it must be a good one. I don’t want any more dead passengers. And one more thing, Colonel. Cancel their pizzas.'
‘Yes, Prime Minister. At once.’ The Colonel turned to go.
‘I want those two prisoners brought here from the prison. At once. You have twenty-five minutes, no more. Do you understand?’
‘But Prime Minister! You can’t do that!’ The Inspector and the Colonel stared at her in surprise.
‘I can and I will.’
‘But these men are dangerous criminals – terrorists. They tried to put a bomb on a plane! They are in prison for…’
‘For thirty years. Colonel. I know. But they are only two men, and there are over a hundred innocent people on that plane. My job is to save their lives, and I need time to do it.’
The Inspector stood up very tall and straight in his uniform. ‘Prime Minister, I strongly advise you not to do this. You don’t understand…’
Helen interrupted him, her voice ice-cold and angry. ‘I understand very well, Inspector. And I thank you for your advice. But I think I must make the decisions, and you have to obey my orders. You now have only twenty-four minutes. Bring those prisoners here, please.’
‘Yes, madam.’ The Inspector and the Colonel left the room looking very unhappy.
‘Yes, Michael?’ She turned, and saw that Michael was smiling quietly.
‘The American and British Ambassadors are here. Do you want to see them?’
She groaned, and sat down suddenly. ‘Do I want to? Of course I don’t! But I must talk to them because that man was an American. Send them in. They can have five minutes with me, that’s all.’
‘Yes, Prime Minister.’ Michael picked up a telephone.
When the terrorist-stewardess came back into the cabin she was shaking. Her hands were shaking and she was crying and smoke was coming out of her gun. One of the passengers, another fat American, stood up and shouted at her.
‘You’re a murderer!’ he shouted. ‘You’re a dirty, murdering, b…’
She turned and pointed the gun at him and fired. The man sat down in his seat and the bullets went above the seats, all along the plane, and out through the roof.
After ten seconds the girl stopped firing and shouted.
‘You shut up! You shut up and sit down or I’ll kill you all! I am a soldier of the People’s Liberation Army and I’ll kill you, all of you!’ but she was crying, too, and the young man in the black shirt put his arm around her and held her. She leaned against him, crying, and he whispered something in her ear.
It was then that Harold moved. He got out of his seat, bent low, and ran very fast along the aisle towards the front of the plane. The young man and the girl did not see him coming and he caught them both around their legs and knocked them onto the floor.
Harold fell on top of them and he tried to take one of the guns, but girl pulled his hair and the young man held his arms. Then the bearded man came out of the Captain’s cabin and hit Harold hard on the head with his gun. Harold fell on the floor and lay still. The bearded man pointed his gun at the passengers and shouted very loudly, ‘SIT STILL!.'
None of the passengers had moved except Carl, and he was too slow. He stood very still in the middle of the aisle five meters away from the bearded man’s gun. The other two hijackers were still on the floor, and Carl saw the Captain move in the cabin behind the bearded man. But the young man in the black shirt saw him too, and stood up and pointed his gun at the Captain. Both Carl and the Captain were too late.
‘I’m getting old,’ Carl thought. ‘When I was young, I could move as fast as Harold, but not now.’ Carl sat down in his seat, very slowly. The bearded man watched him all the time. He pushed Harold with his foot.
‘Search him,’ he said to the girl. ‘Then handcuff him to the door. He will be the next one.’
The girl pulled Harold to the door. She found some handcuffs in his pocket and handcuffed him to the door. Then she searched his other pockets. In one of his pockets she found a newspaper. She looked at it and saw the photo of Harold and Carl. She stood up slowly and showed it to the bearded man. He looked at the photo, and then he looked at Carl carefully and for a long time. Very slowly a smile appeared on the faces of the two hijackers and they began to laugh.
Helen Sandberg stood up to welcome the American and British Ambassadors. The two men were very different. The American ambassador was a tall man with a loud voice which Helen didn’t like very much. He often wore open-necked shirts like people in a disco, and he had a very hairy chest. She disliked that, too. The British Ambassador, a tall thin Scotsman from Edinburgh, was always quiet, polite and well-dressed, but she did not always believe what he said. Once—a year ago—he had lied to her and she could never forget that.
But most of all, she disliked them because they were both military men and their countries were much bigger than hers. They wanted military bases for their soldiers in her country and she did not want them.
‘So, gentlemen, what can I do for you?’
The American spoke first. ‘Well, ma’am, an American passenger is dead.’
‘Yes, I know. I am very sorry about that. I hope no more will die.’
‘I hope so too, ma’am. There are twenty-eight US passengers on that plane and my Government wants them all alive,’ said the American ambassador.
‘So the U.S. Government is going to help you, ma’am. We have fifty U.S. Marines at the U.S. Embassy, and they can be here in one hour from now.’
The Scotsman smiled. ‘Excuse me, Ambassador, but perhaps one hour from now will be too late. One man is already dead. But perhaps you don’t know this. Prime
Minister, but this week six SAS (Special Air Service) soldiers are visiting the British Embassy, and they’re waiting outside in my car now. These men know a lot about hijacks; much more than the US Marines or, probably, your own soldiers, Prime Minister. They know exactly what to do. So…’
‘Now just a moment,’ the American interrupted. ‘The US Marines are better.’
'No they're not,' said the British Ambassador.
'Yes they are.'
'No they aren't.'
‘Gentlemen! For the love of God, please shut up. Are you six years old?,’ Helen’s clear, hard voice stopped them. ‘There’s no time to argue. Firstly, I didn’t know about SAS soldiers in the British Embassy, and I am very surprised about it. Very surprised indeed, Ambassador. Secondly, I do not think it is a good idea to attack a plane with a hundred and seven passengers on it. I want these people to live, not die. So I thank you for your ideas, but remember that this small country is ours, not yours. We will manage this problem in our own way, with our own people, thank you very much. Now you must excuse me. I am busy.’
At the door, the Scotsman turned back. ‘Prime Minister, I know you want to save lives,’ he said. ‘I understand that. But these hijackers must not go free. My Government does not want that. No Government in the world wants that.’
‘I know that, Ambassador,’ Helen answered quietly. ‘I know that very well.’
As they went out, the phone rang. Michael picked it up. Helen sat down at the table
and watched him. His face was very serious. He wrote on a piece of paper and then put the phone down. For a moment, he did not look at her.
‘What is it, Michael? Tell me.’
‘It was a radio message from the plane, Prime Minister.’
‘Well? What did they say? Didn’t they want to talk to me?’
‘No, Prime Minister. Just the message. It says: “We love our brothers, we hope the
Prime Minister loves her husband. He is on the plane, just behind the door.” ’
For a long moment she stared at Michael, but she did not speak. A picture of the American passenger appeared in her head. She saw him jumping out of the door and the girl shooting him, shooting him for ten, maybe fifteen seconds.
‘I’m sorry, Prime Minister,’ said Michael softly.
‘What? Yes, so am I. I thought perhaps… perhaps the hijackers didn’t know Carl was my husband. But they do know.’
She ran her hand through her hair and then looked at her watch. But her hand was shaking so much that she could not tell the time.
The phone rang again. Michael picked it up.
‘Colonel Carter is outside, Prime Minister.’ He watched her, waiting for an answer. ‘Should I tell him to wait?’
She put her hands flat on the table and stood up. ‘Yes. Yes, Michael. Tell him to wait two minutes, that’s all.’ She walked to the window and stared out at the plane. She pressed her forehead against the cool glass and for two minutes she did not move. Then she turned round and smiled at Michael.
‘Let’s just hope Colonel Carter’s plan is a good one. Show him in.’
In the plane, Carl and Harold sat on the floor by the door. They were handcuffed together with Harold’s handcuffs. The girl hijacker stood watching them with her gun. The bearded man in the Captain’s cabin and the young man in the black shirt were watching the other passengers.
Harold touched his head with his hand. There was blood in his hair.
‘How do you feel, my young friend?’ Carl asked.
‘It hurts,’ Harold answered. ‘And I can’t see well.’
‘This man needs a doctor,’ Carl said to the girl, angrily.
She laughed. ‘That is your wife’s problem, not mine,’ she said. ‘If our brothers come, he will get a doctor. If they don’t come, he won’t need one.’ She pointed her gun at Harold’s head and laughed again. She wasn’t at all nervous now.
Carl felt angry. He was angry with the hijackers and he was angry with himself because he had not moved fast enough to help Harold. It was good to be angry; when he was angry he did not feel so afraid.
‘How old are you?’ he asked the girl.
‘I asked you a question!’ he said. ‘How old are you? Eighteen, nineteen? You’re not
very old, really, are you? You’re just a child!’
The girl’s face went red. ‘I’m twenty,’ she said angrily. ‘I’m not a child!’
‘You look like a child. You probably like Justin Beiber. Am I right?’ Carl said. ‘You’re only two years older than my daughter. Why are you doing this?’
The girl laughed. She didn’t look at his eyes. ‘Why? You wouldn’t understand.’
‘I don’t think you understand what you’re doing,’ Carl said. ‘None of the people in this plane has hurt you. We are all innocent. That man you killed,he wasn’t a spy, he was just an American businessman. You’ve never seen any of us before. Why do you want to kill us?’
The girl looked worried and angry. She pointed the gun straight at Carl’s head. ‘I don’t want to kill you,’ she said. ‘I want your government – your wife – to set our brothers free.
‘Yes, I know,’ said Carl, carefully. He watched the gun and the girl’s face, but he was not really afraid because he was still angry. He argued with the girl as though he was arguing with his daughter. ‘But remember what your brothers did. They tried to put a bomb on a plane. They wanted to kill innocent people like us. Why?’
‘You are not innocent!’ said the girl. ‘No one is innocent! People like you, and your wife, and that American – you have money and power and you take it from my people, from us! Do you know how I lived when I was a child? Ten people in one room, with no bath, no water, nothing! My parents had no jobs, no passports, no country, nothing! I didn’t have an iPhone. It was terrible. Can you imagine living without an iPhone? We didn't have a Burger King. We lived in a town with ten thousand others. But ten kilometers away there were rich people like you, with big beautiful houses, fine cars, fine clothes – and they were all innocent people, like you! I tell you no one is innocent.’
She was shouting now, and nearly crying – there were tears in her eyes. Carl and Harold watched the gun carefully. ‘Poor girl,’ Carl thought. ‘Poor little terrorist.’
The bearded man came out of the Captain’s cabin and put his hand on the girl’s arm.
‘Stop it, little flower,’ he said. ‘Don’t talk to them. That’s not your job.’ Then he hit Carl in the face. ‘Keep your mouth shut!’ he said. ‘Think about your wife instead. Do you see the time? I think she has forgotten you!’
Carl groaned and held his mouth with his hand. There was blood in his mouth and one of his teeth was broken. Then he looked at his watch. It was 2:23. Seven minutes left; then the half hour was over.
‘I’m sorry, my friend,’ he whispered to Harold. ‘You tried fighting, and I tried talking.
But it didn’t work. I think this may be our last journey.’
Helen Sandberg decided she liked Colonel Carter. He spoke clearly, he explained his ideas carefully, and he listened to what she said. He did not try to be difficult because she was a woman. Best of all, they had made a plan together. A good plan, she thought; it could really work. Perhaps.
She looked at her watch: 2:23. ‘Right, Colonel, get your men ready. I’ll send the first prisoner down to you when they arrive. Are they here yet?’
‘No, Prime Minister. Not yet.’
‘Then where the hell are they? Can you get Inspector Holm on the car radio?’
‘They’re trying, Prime Minister.’ Michael spoke into the telephone. Colonel Carter left the room and Helen walked up and down slowly, watching the clock. 2:24. 2:25. 2:26.
‘They’ve got him, Prime Minister! He says… he says one of the cars has had an
accident in the rain. He thinks he can be here in ten minutes.’ Michael looked up. There was no smile on his face at all now.
‘Ten minutes! What’s he driving – a police car or a bicycle?’ Helen banged her fist on the table. ‘We’ve got four minutes left. OK. I want to talk to the hijackers. Get them on the radio.’
She sat down at the table while Michael called the plane. Colonel Carter came in and stood behind her. A voice came on the radio.
‘Well, Mrs. Sandberg. Where are our brothers?’
‘They’re coming,’ said Helen. ‘They’ll be here in ten minutes.’
‘That is too late. I gave you half an hour. Your husband will die in four minutes.’
Helen pressed her hands flat on the table, so hard that the ends of her fingers went
white. ‘Please don’t to that,’ she said.
‘I am sorry, Mrs. Sandberg. But if my brothers are not here in four minutes, your
husband will die.’
‘Don’t you want to see your brothers?’ she asked quickly. ‘I promise you, if you kill my husband, you’ll never see them again.’
There was a pause while no one spoke. Then the radio answered. ‘Four minutes, Mrs. Sandberg.’
Helen spoke clearly, slowly, and loudly. She filled her voice with all the anger she had in her body. ‘Listen, you murderer. I need just ten minutes to get your brothers to this airport. Then I will send them to the plane. But if you kill my husband, or anyone else, then I promise you that your brothers will die, on the tarmac in front of that plane. Is that what you want? Or will you wait ten minutes?’
There was another, longer pause. Helen started out into the night. She did not see
‘All right. Ten more minutes.’
‘Thank you. Now, there is one more thing. The passengers.’
‘What about them?’
‘You must set them free before I send your brothers to the plane.’
The voice on the radio laughed. ‘Because you are a woman, do you think all men are stupid, like your husband? Send me our brothers, then refuel the plane, and then I will send you the passengers.’
‘No,’ answered Helen. She looked at Colonel Carter. ‘This is how we will do it. I will
send you one of our brothers and then you must send me the passengers. When we have all the passengers, then we will refuel the plane and send you your other brothers.’
The voice laughed again. ‘Do you think you are buying cheap fish from a child in the market? Send us one brother, then, and we will send you one hundred passengers. Refuel the plane and send us the other brother, and we will send you the other passengers. But the pilot and your husband must come with us to another country. We will set them free later.’
Helen looked at Colonel Carter. There was the beginning of a smile on her face. She could see that he agreed with her. She waited for a moment longer, to worry the hijacker.
‘Is it agreed, woman? Or do I kill your husband now?’
‘I agree. I will send your first brother to you in ten minutes.’
Carl felt his broken tooth with his tongue. The door of the Captain’s cabin was open and he could see the bearded hijacker sitting inside. He had a long nose and dark hair and his eyes looked green from the light of the instruments in the dark cabin. He held his gun near his mouth and touched it gently with his lips as he waited.
Carl had heard half of the conversation. Eight of the ten minutes had gone. Now that he could do nothing he felt afraid. He could feel his hand in the handcuffs shaking. Harold felt it, too, and held Carl’s hand with his own.
‘Don’t worry, Mr. Sandberg,’ Harold whispered. ‘We’ll get out of here.’
‘Perhaps,’ Carl answered. ‘And perhaps not. But I don’t want these murderers to go free.’
‘Ssh,’ Harold whispered. Carl looked up and saw the girl watching them. Then, suddenly, the bearded man shouted, ‘They’re coming! Look! Get ready!’
The girl went into the Captain’s cabin. Harold and Carl stood up and looked through a window. They saw three men pushing some steps across the tarmac. The men put the steps outside the plane door and then went back again. Then two more men came out of the building. They were wearing bright yellow coats because of the rain. One man walked towards the plane.
‘Come away from the door! Quick!’ The girl unlocked the handcuffs and pushed Harold and Carl back to their seats. Then she started to open the door.
‘Wait! Turn the lights out and stand back from the door!’ said the bearded man. ‘They will try to shoot us in the light in front of the door.’
The door opened and the man in the yellow coat came into the plane. He was thin, with very short hair. The girl shut the door, the lights came on, and the man shut his eyes in the bright light. The girl and the bearded man put their arms around him, laughing.
‘Free! You are free now, brother! And the other one, is he safe? Come into the cabin, let’s talk!’
Carl and Harold watched sadly. ‘So now she will give them what they want, because of me,’ said Carl quietly. ‘We will be safe, but they will go free to bomb another plane, because of me.’ He held his head in his hands.
‘Wait, Mr. Sandberg,’ said Harold. ‘Your wife isn’t stupid, you know. This game has not ended yet. Sit still, and be ready.’
The other passengers sat quietly, waiting to be free.
Helen Sandberg stood by the control room window, staring at the plane. ‘Come on,’ she said. ‘Why is that door shut? Where are the passengers?’
‘The hijackers won’t set them free,’ said Inspector Holm. ‘I told you, Prime Minister, this is serious mistake.’
‘Be quiet, man,’ said Colonel Carter. ‘I think we’ve got something on the radio.’
Beside him, a soldier was turning the controls of a small army radio. Suddenly, the voice of one of the hijackers and the prisoner came into the room.
‘So how many soldiers are there in the airport building, my brother?’
‘I didn’t see any soldiers, only police.’
‘That’s strange! No soldiers at all?’
‘I did not see any, brother.’
‘Very strange. But these are not military people. They do not have many soldiers. Perhaps the woman do what she says, then.’
‘What happening, Colonel?’ Helen asked. ‘Those are the hijackers voices. How can we hear them?’
The Colonel laughed. ‘Well, madam, you can see it’s raining, can’t you? We didn’t want our poor prisoner to get wet, so we gave him a nice yellow raincoat, you see. But it was an expensive raincoat, because one of its buttons is a small transmitter. So now we can hear everything they say and we know where they are on the plane!’
Helen smiled. ‘Good idea, Colonel. I hope it helps.’
‘Prime Minister,’ Michael interrupted. ‘They’re coming!’
Helen looked through the window. The door of the plane was open and people were coming down the steps one after another. Some of them started to run towards the airport building, and few knelt down on the wet tarmac.
‘What are they doing?’ Helen asked.
‘Praying, perhaps?’ said Michael. ‘To thank God that they’re alive? Or maybe one of them dropped something and they are looking for it on the tarmac.'
Police and doctors came out of the building to help the passengers. Helen stood and watched through binoculars. She did not see Carl.
‘Ninety-nine, one hundred. That’s it, then,’ said Colonel Carter. The plane door closed.
‘Now we move on to the next step of our plan. Goodbye, Prime Minister.’
Helen turned and saw that the Colonel was putting on white clothes on top of his army uniform. He put several grenades in the coat pocket, and a machine gun into a long pocket inside the coat. He smiled at her. ‘I must help my men refuel the plane.’
‘May God go with you, Colonel,’ she said.
The lights in the plane went out again. There were only eleven of them let now: Carl Sandberg and Harold, four crew, and five Americans. They sat together in the middle of the plane. The girl and the young man in the black shirt watched them.
Through the window, Carl saw the fuel tanker drive towards the plane. It stopped, and five men in white clothes got out. The pilot went to the front of the plane to work the controls, and the men starred to refuel the plane.
The he saw another man in a yellow raincoat come out of the airport building. The bearded hijacker started to talk very excitedly. ‘Is it him? Yes, it is! Our leader! My brother and sister, we have done it! Now, I must welcome him at the door. You, brother, watch the pilot in the cabin, and sister, watch the passengers.’
Carl Sandberg watched the man in the yellow coat walk nearer. He could only see one man at the back of the plane, refueling it. He thought the others were under the plane somewhere, but he did not know where.
Harold put his hand on Carl’s arm. Carl looked at him. Harold did not speak, but he was looking at the girl, very carefully. As the door opened, and the man with the yellow coat came in, the girl turned to look.
Through the window, Carl saw a man in a white coat run out from under the plane with something that looked like a grenade in his hand. Two other men in white ran out behind him.
The man’s arm went up and he threw the grenade through the open door. There was a very loud BANG at the front of the plane, and a flash of white light that burned Carl’s eyes. Almost immediately there was an even louder BANG BANG and two more flashes of white light.
Carl could not move. The noise was so loud and the light so bright that he sat still as a stone. He saw the girl hijacker and the bearded man standing quiet still too, with their guns in their hands and their mouths open. Then a man in white ran through the door with a gun in his hand. He shot the girl and the bearded man before they could move. The hijacker in the black shirt came out of the Captain’s cabin behind the man in white came through the door and shot him too. The two prisoners, in their yellow raincoats, tried to get the door, but the men in white knocked them to the floor and handcuffed their behind their backs.
Carl looked down. The girl was lying on the floor of the aisle beside him. He thought he saw her hand move towards her machine gun, but then one of the soldiers in white ran down the aisle and shot her again in the head. Then a big heavy suitcase fell on top of her from the compartment above the seats. Another soldier pulled her away by her legs and her long hair left blood along the floor.
Helen Sandberg heard the bangs too, and when she saw the white light, she thought the plane was burning. For about half a minute there was nothing but loud bangs and white flashes, and then there was nothing. There were no lights at all in the plane and no sounds either.
She turned to Michael. ‘Can’t you get them on the radio?’
‘I’m trying, Prime Minister. But I think it’s broken.’
She walked to the door. ‘I’m going out.’
Inspector Holm stood in front of her. ‘You must not do that, Prime Minister. We don’t know what has happened.’
He was a big man but he was afraid of her. She walked straight past him and down the steps. In the departure lounge there was a crowd of passengers waiting to get on other planes, and also a lot of doctors, police, and newspaper journalists. She walked straight past them all and out onto the tarmac. It was dark and cold and the wind blew rain into her face. When she was about fifty metres away from the building she heard some people behind her, but she did not stop.
The door of the plane opened and a man in white came out. He had a gun in his hand and he came backwards down the steps. After him came two men in yellow raincoats with their hands behind their backs, and then two other men in white with guns.
Two police officers came after her.
‘Wait, Prime Minister,’ they said. ‘Please stop, it’s dangerous.’
‘Not now,’ she said. ‘It’s not dangerous anymore.’ She walked on through the rain without stopping, and the young police officers walked beside her. They were afraid to touch her and they did not know what to do. Some journalists ran after them.
Two men in blue came out of the plane – the pilot and co-pilot—then some men in suits. She was quite near the plane now and there were a lot of newspaper photographers around her, but she did not stop walking.
A big young man came out of the plane with a short, thin, grey-haired one – Harold and Carl. Helen could see that Carl’s face was very white and there was blood in his mouth, but he could walk all right.
Carl saw her coming, a small strong figure walking through the rain, with a crowd of police and photographers around her. ‘Harold, my friend,’ he said. ‘I think we’re in the news again. You’re going to have another photo to show your little son on his birthday.’
Carl and Helen Sandberg met at the bottom of the steps in the darkness and the rain.
And Carl was right; there was a photo of it in every newspaper in the world the next day.
Who is the Prime Minister’s husband?
The Prime Minister’s husband is Carl.
Who is Harold?
Harold is a police officer, His job is to protect Carl.
How many hijackers are on the plane?
There are three hijackers on the plane.
What does Harold do with Carl’s passport?
Harold tears up and eats Carl’s passport.
Who do the hijackers shoot?
The hijackers shoot a fat American passenger?
Are all Americans fat and stupid?
Yes, all Americans are fat and stupid.
What do the hijackers want?
The hijackers want their brothers to be set free.
The hijackers want the Prime Minister to set their brothers free.
Where are their brothers?
Their brothers are in a prison.
Why are their brothers in prison?
They are in prison because they tried to put a bomb on a plane.
Who are the hijackers?
The hijackers are freedom fighters from The People’s Liberation Army.