It was a warm day in Athens and summer in Greece was even lovelier for the usually grumpy Englishman who was getting ready to board his flight in half an hour, when the van would pick the entire crew up from the hotel and get them to the airport for the pre-flight briefing. Arthur had received a letter from his lover from New York, where he would be flying this afternoon. His name was Alfred F. Jones and he had the rank of Major within the US Delta Force, which Arthur had no idea what it was but didn’t care. The letter said that he would be waiting for him at the airport and would take him to the best dinner he had ever had in his life, before ending the evening with a series of romantic cuddles in Alfred’s house. Arthur had blushed when he had read the things that Alfred wanted to do with him when they were alone in his bed.
The young Chief Steward fixed his black uniform in front of the full-length mirror of the hotel room and put on his jacket before leaving it with his light baggage to join his colleagues and the pilots. He had rolled his eyes when he saw the crewmembers’ list that morning. He would have to supervise the stupid Vargas brothers, those incompetent Italians who could not even turn on an oven without burning the entire galley. The last time they had cooked a meal it had burned, literally, there was fire coming out of the oven and it managed to reach the curtain which caused a panic to spread among the passengers of Economy Class and Arthur’s section, First Class, when they realised they had a fire on board. The plane had to make an emergency landing at Hong Kong en route from Los Angeles and they were not fired because their father was the primary investor of Pan Atlantic Airways. He was also surprised, and not in a good way, to see the name of Captain Bonnefoy in the list. He was a snobby Frenchman who was always doing his best to piss him off so he would lose his temper in front of the passengers or fellow flight attendants, so he can be discredited. He hated travelling with that captain.
He was flying with Feliks in the First Class. He was a – very – feminine Polish flight attendant who had fled his country in hopes of a better life in the United States or the United Kingdom ten years ago and, upon finishing high school and without any future projects, he decided to apply for the job of flight attendant in Pan Atlantic, which was in need of male cabin crew. As the years passed, his boss realised he had potential and sent him to First Class almost immediately after being hired. That was not the first time Arthur had flown with him. He wouldn’t say they were friends, but he had fun with the Pole during long-haul flights like the one they would have to board that day.
“Everything set to go to the airport?”
Arthur asked Feliks, who was toying with a lock of his shoulder-length blonde hair in the lobby, looking bored at his nails. Arthur was checking the time in the watch he had received from Alfred. It had the Statue of Liberty in the background. It was almost noon and the flight would leave in about two hours.
“Almost, the bus is late”
Feliks said, without looking up at him. He pulled his hair up and looked at himself in the reflection of his small mirror. Arthur had to roll his eyes at his co-worker’s feminine behaviour. He identified himself with the figure of the Chevalier d’Eon and had tried to make his bosses approve his request to wear a woman’s uniform, but he was thoroughly denied and made fun of, but he was the strongest person Arthur knew. He wouldn’t bow down in front of anyone and wouldn’t let anything bother him. The Englishman would never admit it, but he admired the Polish young man. Finally, the bus arrived and the pilots where the first to climb in. Arthur had to again roll his eyes at his co-workers’ behaviour, but didn’t mind as he sat as far away from who he thought was Captain Bonnefoy – as he was seeing him from the back – as he could.
As Arthur was doing in the hotel lobby, several kilometres away from them, Farah Dahan was checking her watch while fixing her hair in the mirror of the small apartment the Party gave to her and to her fellow Party members once they were commissioned a specific task abroad their home in a refugees’ camp in Lebanon. She was waiting for Gupta Muhammad Hassan, her long-time friend and colleague. Suddenly, two knocks on the door indicated her that Gupta was waiting outside.
She said in Arabic as she opened the door for Gupta, who entered the safe house and sat down at the small table in the kitchen, across the living room. Farah closed and locked the door and sat down across Gupta, who opened his bag and took out two hand-grenades and two loaded guns, as well as a blueprint of the Boeing 707. Inside of the bag there was also a bunch of wires and C4 explosives, whose position in the plane had to be discussed after the Zuhr.
“I talked with Sadiq this morning and everything is set”
Gupta said in a whisper, because they had been taught, in the deserts of the Middle East, gun in hand that all the walls, even the fortified ones, were paper-thin and anyone could hear them talking and that could spoil their mission. Farah pursed her lips and nodded.
“Where is he right now?”
Sadiq Adnan, a Turkish man who had been a member of the Party several years, had been their commander during their training for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, when they were both young and inexperienced children of refugees from Israel. Farah and her family had been expelled from their home in her native Haifa in 1948 upon the creation of the State of Israel by the – what she and her family thought – cruel Jews. Gupta’s story was not much different than Farah’s and Sadiq had pulled them both out of their misery with promises of great riches when they achieved their goal to drive the Jews out of Palestine and return to their beloved homes.
In their current mission, the chain of command was not that obvious as one would think. Sadiq was, obviously that is, the head of the entire operation but he would not carry weaponry. He was followed by Farah, who, despite being a woman in a world of men as it was the world of Islam, she had excelled in her military training in the refugees’ camp and her face was well-known within the Party. Gupta was the one that would have to go through the doors carrying the armament in his bag.
Right now, there were more important things to focus on, as the clock was chiming from the wall.
“It doesn’t matter”
Farah said, getting up from the table. They washed themselves and each of them extended a deep red sajjada over the dusty floor and stood over it with their hands raised.
They both said in a whisper before kneeling down. Over the table, next to the explosives and the guns, there were two tickets for Pan Atlantic flight 103 to New York.
Ellinikon Airport was crowded by the time Toris Laurinatis arrived in a taxi from his hotel in downtown Athens. He had been in Greece for two weeks parading around the Greek capital with important documents in his attaché case for his boss, Mr. Braginsky, who he was going to meet in New York and deliver said documents to. It was a stressful job, but, at least, the company paid him a First Class ticket every time he travelled abroad. He loved to see the flight attendants walk by offering champagne or caviar with that elegance that characterized them. He preferred when the flight attendants, instead of being beautiful women, were cute boys so he could admire them throughout all the flight. Two years ago, in a flight from New York to Buenos Aires, he had fallen in love with a cute blonde flight attendant of First Class with shoulder-length, soft looking and nice smelling hair and emerald eyes. He had an Eastern European accent that made him look even more exotic. He had asked him for a glass of champagne every time he saw him walk by with that slight sway of his hips. The boy had started calling him “Mr. Champagne” by the arrival at Ezeiza Airport in Buenos Aires. He was surprised he didn’t get even a little tipsy and mentally congratulated himself in not having made a fool out of himself in front of the cute flight attendant. He had travelled to several continents after that flight to Argentina, but he had never had the opportunity to see that flight attendant again and, after the first year went by, he lost all hope.
He shook his head. He shouldn’t be thinking about that flight attendant. He went to the Ambassadors’ Club, the upper lounge of the airport, where he also found several First Class passengers of Pan Atlantic flights throughout all Europe, and sat down in one of the comfortable blue couches, overl0oking the tarmac and watching all those beautiful airplanes parade: Lufthansa, Air France, Alitalia, and, most especially Pan Atlantic. There was a couple arguing in one of the faraway couches, near the bar. The man looked nervous and the woman looked pissed.
“I told you, Roderick, there was no way we could have brought your damn piano on our honeymoon!”
The man, Roderick, rolled his eyes and huffed. The woman smiled warmly and put an arm around his shoulders, nuzzling her face into his neck, making him blush deeply.
“Didn’t you have a good time without it?”
She asked. He cleared his throat and gently pushed her away, to which she responded with a frown.
“Yes, I did... but I would have had a better time with it, Elisabetta”
She sighed and got up. She asked the bartender for the strongest drink he could make her and she drank it in one sip, surprising her husband.
The Pan Atlantic B-707 was standing in the tarmac, under the heating Greek sun waiting for permission to taxi to the Terminal. The crew had already boarded it, after the fifteen-minute briefing. Inside the aircraft, the air conditioning was working perfectly, as the engines were working as well. Arthur had gathered the entire cabin crew in the First Class cabin.
Captain Bonnefoy came out of the cockpit and approached Arthur from behind, putting his hands over his shoulders, making him shiver visibly.
“Arthur, I was surprised to see your name on the crew list this morning”
Arthur didn’t turn around and spoke looking at his crew.
“Well, life is full of surprises”
“One would’ve thought that you would have quitted flying after what happened in Spain”
Arthur turned around with a glare in his face, red with anger. Feliks noticed and put his arms around the Italian brothers, pushing them towards Economy Class.
“Let’s inspect the lavatories, shall we?”
The two Italians left and Feliks did also. When there was nobody in the cabin, Arthur looked around and spoke in a heated whisper.
“Listen, that was a black day in my life and I’m not going to consent anybody, especially not you, from brining that up when I’m about to board the plane...”
“I didn’t mean to make you upset, Arthur, it wasn’t your fault. What happened there...”
“It doesn’t matter!”
Arthur stormed off to one of the lavatories, where he locked himself to calm down. A year ago, when he wasn't yet the Chief Steward and was working in Economy, a young Spanish man named Antonio had boarded a Pan Atlantic flight from Malaga to Madrid and New York with a small child he always called Romano. The kid was grumpy as an old man and kept calling the older man a "bastard", to Arthur that was quite amusing. Suddenly, during the first leg of the trip, one of the engines caught fire after an explosion and the wing began leaking fuel. When they landed at Barajas, the fire spread to the fuselage. He opened the door and deployed the slide for the passengers to evacuate the burning aircraft. He went back into the cabin and grabbed the hand of the little boy, followed by his tutor, but an explosion shook the plane and he lost them in the thick smoke. Later on, he found out that they had gone, along with a few other passengers, lost to the front of the aircraft, the place more affected by the fire. He had blamed himself for the death of all those people, especially the little boy, but thanks to therapy and his lover Alfred was able to let it go.
When he came out of the lavatory, his crew was waiting for him in the First Class cabin and the captain was nowhere to be seen, so he took a deep breath and composed himself.
"Ok, listen, the captain told me that we would start boarding in a couple minutes. The flight is full until we get to London and then sixty passengers will deplane and ten more will board the flight to New York. I hope you behave in the way it's expected from the airline's personnel"
“Your attention, please, Pan Atlantic Airways flight 103 to Rome and London boarding at Gate 1-15. Την προσοχή σας, παρακαλώ...”
The PA announcement could be heard throughout the Terminal in several languages, and the passengers started to get up from their seats and head to Gate 1-15. Toris got up from his comfortable couch, sighing, with his passport and ticket in the hand that was not holding his briefcase. The Edelstein couple got up also, and Elisabetta draped the shawl over her naked shoulders. Among the passengers that headed to the gate were Farah and Gupta, who was holding his bag too tightly to be something legal. They were talking in Arabic to each other.
“Were in Allah’s name is Sadiq?”
Farah asked quite upset and handing her ticket to the stewardess. She was wearing a black wig and a light blue skirt suit with white shoes and gloves.
“I don’t know, he should be here already!”
Gupta said, as upset as she was before giving his ticket to the stewardess after Farah boarded the plane.
Arthur and Feliks were receiving the passengers in the First Class cabin, as it was where the boarding was being made. Farah and Gupta, holding tight to his bag, made their way to the back of the plane, where they would be seated, and the First Class passengers took their seats in the front cabin. When it was Toris’ turn to board, he stopped in his tracks upon seeing the flight attendant which who he had dreamed for two years: Feliks.