The flight attendants had removed Toris’ jacket, shirt and tie and Arthur was dipping a hand towel in a bowl full of water taken from the lavatories and pressing it against the wound, trying to stop the bleeding. Toris was half unconscious. Feliciano and Lovino were checking the passenger list to see if there was a doctor, but no one had stood up at the moment of the gunfire, so there was little to no hope on that matter. Suddenly, the “Fasten Seatbelts” sign was turned on and the flight attendants looked around the cabin and out of the windows, knowing that they were landing.
“Pull down the shades!”
Gupta ordered and Arthur got up, leaving Feliciano to press down on the wound and try to console the poor Lithuanian man that was, slowly, bleeding to death in the aisle. He began pulling down the shades of every window. The passengers soon realised what the terrorists meant and began pulling down the curtains, quickly. Suddenly, Farah came out of the cockpit and addressed the passengers and crew on the Economy cabin, purposely avoiding the injured flight attendant and the passenger on the aisle.
“Attention, everybody, we are landing. Don’t look out the window and stay seated”
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are landing right now. Please fasten your seat belts and remain seated”
Arthur translated as little as he could manage to catch on what Farah had said. The passengers, still with their heads down, made sure their seatbelts were fastened. Farah kneeled down so he could speak to Feliciano, who, upon seeing her face so close, trembled.
“An ambulance will be waiting in the tarmac to take your friend, the steward, and your passenger to the hospital as soon as we land”
Was Feliciano’s response, but Arthur approached them when he heard Farah speaking in Arabic and translated as much as he could for his fellow flight attendant.
“She said that an ambulance is going to take Feliks and Mr. Laurinatis to the hospital”
Feliciano looked up at Arthur, worried about that. He knew that things were uneasy in the Middle East, and he had a feeling that that’s where they had just landed, as he felt the wheels of the landing gear touch down the runway with that characteristic grating sound. When the plane finally came to a full stop, Farah went back to talk to Gupta in the First Class galley. Feliciano whispered to Arthur, with one hand over Toris’ wound and the other over his chest in worry.
“Are they going to be safe in the hospital? I mean... I don’t think it’s a good idea to leave them by themselves out there. It’s dangerous”
Arthur sighed. Feliciano was right, but there was nothing else they could do to help them both, and a hospital was the only chance Toris had to survive and Feliks to get better and check for internal injuries.
“I know, but they’ll help them there. At least they are not leaving them to die here”
Several vehicles could be heard from outside, getting close to the plane. Arthur could only imagine what he would encounter out there and there was still the hope that they would be released there in Beirut, but he knew, as did everybody else, that those were experienced terrorists who had a mission and it wouldn’t be a successful mission if they didn’t exchange the hostages for anything, and he doubted the American, Italian and Greek embassies could negotiate with the Palestinians there in Lebanon. That possibility was highly unlikely.
“Keep an eye on him, don’t leave him alone”
Arthur said to Feliciano, with one hand over his small shoulder before walking over to the Feliks, who was sitting in one of the seats of the First Class cabin. He checked on the Israeli couple first. Gal was scared to death, but she had her husband with her and she felt a little bit better about the whole situation thanks to him. Arthur then sat down next to Feliks, who was moaning in pain. Farah turned around and glared at him.
“Tell him to shut up”
Arthur glared at Farah back and, when she turned around again and continued talking in what seemed like gibberish with Gupta in the galley, put his hand on the back of Feliks’ neck and on his forehead. He was clutching his belly.
“Shh, it’s alright, Feliks. Everything will be alright”
He suddenly tried to move, to look back, but Arthur held him still. He didn’t want him to get hurt if he had any internal injuries. He didn’t want to risk it.
“Where is “Mr. Champagne”?”
Arthur was confused and he might have made a face, because Feliks smiled. He could see the blood trickling down the corners of his rosy lips.
“Toris Laurinatis, the passenger... the passenger of 2-B. The L-Lithuanian”
“Oh... he is alright”
Feliks didn’t believe it, but he didn’t have the strength to talk anymore and Arthur didn’t want to worry him, to avoid further complications to his health. He had been pretty battered, but one thing was sure, in Feliks’ mind, he had saved any Jewish passengers on board by not reading their names. Suddenly, Gupta approached Arthur and took him by the collar, pulling him slightly up the seat. Farah was behind him, looking interested in what was about to happen.
“I want the passengers’ list. If your friend couldn’t do it, you will”
Gupta said, pointing his gun at Arthur’s chin, tilting his head backwards. Feliks squeezed Arthur’s arm in fear of what they could do to him, considering what he had done to him.
“What are you talking about?”
Gupta said through clenched teeth as he dragged Arthur to the galley and pushed him against the counter. Arthur immediately started looking for the passengers’ list, which he thought that it was what the hijackers were looking for as he had only understood the words “list” and “you – something he couldn’t understand – do it”. He found it and gave it to him. Gupta looked at it and threw it at him. Arthur didn’t know if pick it up or not. He was slightly afraid, but he wouldn’t let it show in front of those bastards.
“What do you want?”
Farah walked to them, gun in hand, although not pointing at Arthur, that would have been too much for everything. Gupta stepped back and Farah picked up the passengers’ list from the carpeted floor of the First Class galley and handed it over to Arthur, who took it with shaky hands.
“Jewish passengers... Identify them for me”
Arthur gulped. He knew what they were up to, so he was about to deny when he realised what they could do to him if he refused, knowing what they had done to poor Feliks and Toris. Farah seemed to know what was going through Arthur’s mind, so she spoke up.
“If you don’t do this little favour for us, we won’t liberate your friend and your injured passenger and let him die here, do you understand?”
She asked in English at last. Arthur could understand, more or less, what she had said and he knew he had to do it, so he sucked in a breath and began reading the passengers’ list in search of Jewish names.
Arthur couldn’t’ believe that he was going to do that.
Alfred got off the plane as soon as he could and drove off towards Fort Bragg in a rental. He knew he was late, but crosswind had caused a delay in the arrival at Fayetteville, and he would be reprimanded by the Colonel, a very strict man in his fifties that had proven to be in Alfred’s side more than once. He was a good man, but his methods were very old-schooled and there was a secret competence between the three commanding officers of different units – Alfred: Section 1; his brother Matthew: Section 2 and their friend Gilbert: Section 3 – to be who would be the next Colonel of the Delta Force, which had been founded that same year and would take action for the first time in history abroad in Lebanon. Alfred couldn’t care less about the competition, as his beloved Englishman was trapped up in the air with strongly armed hijackers. He couldn’t think anything good of it.
When he arrived at Fort Bragg – late as always, and the Colonel didn’t hesitate on reprimanding him – he said hi to his brother and his friend quickly before sitting down to hear the Colonel’s explanation. Apparently, the plane had landed in Beirut and the terrorists had allowed the medical services to get near them, presumably, to take some injured passengers, although there was not very much said by the pilot, as he was censored by the hijackers. They still didn’t know how many of them were on board and how armed they were.
“That’s the situation right now. The President wants us to intercept and neutralize the situation and with as less victims as we can, but he is still trying to get clearance to operate in foreign territory, until then he wants Williams, Beilschmidt, Jones and me to prepare the field for you guys in Beirut, so we are leaving at noon”
“Roger that, sir”
The three of them said in unison, and, during a fifteen minute recess before resuming the meeting, Matthew approached his stepbrother with two cups of coffee in his hands. He offered one to Alfred, who gladly took it as he hadn’t been able to have breakfast. He had left the house in a hurry.
“Are you ok, brother?”
Alfred sipped in his lukewarm coffee, sitting in the small table where Matthew quickly found a spot to sit next to him and put his arm around his shoulder. Alfred left the cup in the table.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen... what if those sons of bitches blow up the plane before we even get there? I couldn’t bear losing Arthur, Mattie, I couldn’t”
Suddenly, tears started forming in the blonde’s eyes, but he wouldn’t let his colleagues see him in such a state. Perhaps he was being too proud, but he didn’t want them to sense weakness in their commander. Matthew, on the other hand, knew how much painful this situation was for his brother. He also knew how much he loved the Englishman and how devastated would he be if he lost him in such a horrible way. Matthew smiled when Alfred dropped his head between his arms against the table and tightened his grip around his shoulders.
“Don’t worry, Al, we’ll get them. We are gonna kick some Palestinian asses once we are there!”
Everyone in the room cheered upon hearing Matthew’s quiet voice become so unusually loud. Alfred laughed half-heartedly and peeked his head up, looking at the stepbrother he had grown to love over the years, since his father married his mother.
“Thanks, bro. You are the best”
Alfred really hoped they could get there in time.
Arthur had finished reading the passengers’ list and took a deep breath and, asking God for forgiveness, took the interphone to address the passengers. He swallowed nervously, as he felt Farah’s eyes looking at him intently from where she was sitting, in the First Class lounge, smoking a cigarette.
“Mr. Edelstein, please come to First Class”
Both Elisabetta and Feliciano turned around to see him in fear when they heard his name being called by Arthur through the PA system. Feliciano was helping his brother, Lovino, move Toris’ body from the centre of the aisle to one of the seats in First Class. Upon hearing them, Feliks slowly turned around.
“P-Put him here, with me”
Feliciano and Lovino complied and put the injured Lithuanian next to the Pole, who caressed his hand lovingly. Back in the Economy section, Roderick cleared his throat and got up from his seat, walking over to First Class. Elisabetta grabbed his hand and stopped him in the middle of the aisle.
Roderick caressed the side of his wife’s face warmly, with a sad smile on his face. He wasn’t one to smile much, but these kind of risky situations brought the best out of him.
“I have to”
“Move! Didn’t you hear?!”
Gupta yelled from the front of the cabin. Roderick gently pulled his wife’s hand away and kept walking. Determined, Elisabetta got up and walked behind him. Gupta noticed and walked up to them, pointing at her with his gun.
“What are you doing? Go back!”
Elisabetta didn’t understand what was he saying, as he was speaking in Arabic, but she decided to speak up.
“I don’t know what you are saying, but he is my husband and I’m going with him wherever he goes”
Gupta pushed Roderick aside and pointed at Elisabetta with his gun. Feliciano ran up to them and helped Roderick up, as he had fallen to the floor. He grabbed Gupta from behind.
“Stop pointing your damn gun at my passengers!”
Gupta stepped back, glaring at Feliciano. He guided the Edelstein couple to First Class. Farah approached Gupta with anger in her face.
“What is she doing here? We didn’t call her!”
“She insisted on coming”
Farah turned around and looked at Arthur, who was also looking at Elisabetta and wondering what was she doing there.
“Ask her if she is Jewish”
Arthur approached them quickly and gently pushed Farah aside.
“Oh, she wants to know if you are Jewish”
“No, I’m not. But I’m going where my husband goes”
Elisabetta answered, determinately, holding onto her husband’s arm almost protectively. Roderick put his hand over hers’ in a gesture of love. Arthur smiled sadly and turned around to face Farah.
“S-She says... she goes where her... husband... goes”
He said awkwardly. He didn’t know if he was saying it right, but Farah seemed to understand, as she grabbed Arthur’s arm and pushed him towards the interphone again. He continued reading the passengers’ list until there was two more passengers, both of them male around the ages of twenty or thirty, sitting in First Class. When he was done, he went to the lavatory to cry and think of Alfred.
“Oh, Alfred, how much I miss you”
He said in between sobs. Ten minutes later, when he heard banging on the lavatory’s door, he washed his face and composed himself before stepping out and facing Gupta.
“The ambulance is coming”
Arthur swallowed and tried his best to avoid his voice sounding like he had been crying. As Alfred, he didn’t want to show weakness in front of the terrorists and his passengers, because if the flight attendants didn’t keep their pose, who would, then? Farah told Arthur to open the door for the staircase, and when he did, he was hit by an intense heat that forced him to lean against the fuselage and fan himself with the passengers’ list.
“Oh my God”
When he looked out, he was horrified to see several armed men guarding the plane and ten or twelve of their vehicles parked in the tarmac, where there were more people. Arthur could see the devastated city farther away, and the occasional column of black smoke rising into the warm Mediterranean sky. Suddenly, an ambulance appeared and two male nurses stepped down with a stretcher. Arthur went immediately to Feliciano and Lovino.
“Help me get Mr. Laurinatis on the stretcher”
The Italian brothers complied and helped the injured Lithuanian over the stretcher while Feliks watched, tears in his emerald eyes. Arthur smiled at him and put his hand over his shoulder.
“He will be alright”
“Is the blonde one the other patient?”
One of the nurses asked Farah, pointing at Feliks. She nodded and they went off the plane and into the ambulance. Arthur was worried that they were going to leave him there, but they returned, without any stretcher or wheelchair, they just pulled him up and took them to the airplane’s open door. Arthur followed them and the Italian brothers stood behind.
“You will be alright, Feliks. I promise”
“T-Thank you, A-Arthur”
Feliks managed to say before he was taken off the plane. Farah put her arm across the open door to prevent Arthur for going any further. The blonde flight attendant faced the hijacker.
“I want you to liberate women and children. Women and children... liberate”
He said in Arabic at last. Farah clicked her tongue, sighed and nodded, but before Arthur and the other flight attendants could go into the cabin and tell women and children that they were safe, Farah stopped him by grabbing his arm.
“Only ten, or they all stay on board. Make your choice”
Now it was Arthur’s turn to sigh. He considered his options and decided to play along or else, they would all be doomed. He motioned Feliciano and Lovino to go to the cabin and he turned around to face Farah before leaving.
He went on selecting elderly women and young children, whose farewell from his parents was the most heartbreaking thing Arthur had ever seen. He had to fight to keep his emotions at bay and maintain a stoic façade in front of the scared passengers. He went to the first row and found Lilly, who was clung to her big brother.
“I don’t want to go. Not without big brother”
She said, almost in the verge of tears. Arthur sucked in a breath and he put his hand over the girl’s small shoulders.
“Honey, he will be alright, I promise I will look after him if you just do as they tell you”
Lilly began to cry and his brother went to console her in his lap.
“Don’t cry, I will be alright, just like he said. Go and I will meet you in no time. I promise”
He kissed her temple and slowly, she got down his lap and grabbed Arthur’s hand. He t0ok her to the front of the aircraft and told Farah he was going down with her. Airport authorities were waiting for the promised released hostages on the tarmac. Lilly was still crying when Arthur left her outside the plane and helped the other elderly ladies get down the stairs.
When the staircase was removed, Arthur was forced to close the door and he rested his forehead against it.
He didn’t know how much time would it take for Alfred and his unit to save them all, but he couldn’t bear no more of that situation.