The plan was underway: the GIGN group was divided in three equitable sections; the first section corresponded to Alfred and the second to Matthew, they would both lead the way for storming the plane through the back entrances mounted over the movable boarding stairs, advancing on the aircraft’s blind point, the tail. Gilbert had the third section, disguised as airport maintenance behind the tanker, they would wait on the tarmac and receive the signal from Alfred and then retransmit it to the tower to turn off the airport’s lights. Everything was set and the Colonel was waiting for the go-ahead from General Honda, who, in turn, was waiting for the go-ahead from the president.
When the women and children were taken on the bus to the Terminal and the doors were closed, the three sections received the Colonel’s green light. Matthew’s most feared moment materialized in that second when the three captains heard the voice of the Colonel through their radios.
“Jones, it’s a go”
Alfred clicked his tongue and looked at his brother, who was crouched on the stair next to his, followed by a group of heavily armed professional men. He addressed his fellow captains.
“Show starts in 30 seconds, boys. Radios off the air”
“Roger, 30 seconds, mark”
Both Matthew – with a shaky but determined voice – and Gilbert said, before closing communications. The clock was ticking and their hearts were beating fast. Alfred didn’t want to do anything to hurt Arthur, but he didn’t know what he would do if his lover got between him and one of the armed hijackers.
He didn’t want to think about it, but it was possibility.
The ambassador had decided to stay in the tower to try to negotiate with the hijackers the release of more hostages while the Colonel was expecting a call from Major LaGarde, telling him that he and his sister were already in the passengers’ lounge in the second floor of the airport, waiting for him to interview her, as the major little did know about the operation. When the call came, the Colonel went rushing to the room, where he found the LaGarde siblings. Geneviève was uncovering her hair and Michel was looking out the windows at the plane.
“Colonel, this is my sister, Geneviève”
“Pleased to meet you, miss...”
The Colonel said, going in for a kiss in her hand before she interrupted him abruptly and with no manners whatsoever, something that one would not expect from such a socialite, but she was quite prissy with her language so she corrected him.
The Colonel sighed and sat down next to Geneviève, who was twirling her gloves in her hand nervously. She wasn’t used to be nervous, so she didn’t like this situation she had been dragged in by her brother.
“This is only going to take a minute”
Geneviève was now looking at him strangely and at her brother.
She asked, looking through the windows at the illuminated plane.
“They are going to storm the plane”
Suddenly, the lights in the runways, the tarmac and the tower were turn off and everything sulked in the darkness outside of the windows. Geneviève, in an unusual display of emotions for her, grabbed the Colonel’s hands in her own, looking into his eyes.
“Oh no, you mustn’t! All the hostages in Beirut will be killed!”
“What hostages in Beirut?”
Alfred looked at his watch, so did Matthew and Gilbert, and immediately knew that it was Showtime. The stairs began moving towards the plane in the darkness. Inside the plane, most specifically in the cockpit with the pilots, Sadiq was getting nervous upon seeing that the airport had turned off its lights.
“What the hell happened?”
He said in Arabic before going into the cabin, leaving the pilots wandering, too, what the hell had happened.
The Colonel was now worried with this new information he had received, and so was LaGarde. They knew the plan was underway and that was the scariest part.
“The Jews they took off the plane when the other hijackers came on board”
The Colonel got up from his seat and Michel turned around from the windows, where he was clearly seeing the stairs moving towards the plane from behind.
“Mon Dieu! We have to stop this at once!”
Both he and the Colonel left the lounge quickly, leaving a dumbfounded Geneviève behind. They needed to make contact with Alfred or Matthew as soon as they could, but they knew that, at that point, they would have closed communications.
Inside the cabin, the noise of the approaching staircases was not as quiet as the Colonel had thought. The hijackers realised something was up and they started yelling and running to the back, alarming the passengers and the crew. Sadiq headed to the rear galley, armed with a machine gun and several grenades in his belt, followed by the other heavily armed men. He pushed Arthur out of the way, throwing him in the arms of a young man.
They pushed Feliciano against the door and told him to open it. When he did, it was like all hell had broken loose. They started shooting against the quickly approaching men in the staircases.
The driver of Alfred’s staircase had been shot in the head through the glass which caused him to drop the wheel and collide against Matthew’s. One of the hijackers threw a grenade which exploded near them. Both stairs flipped over, throwing all men on the tarmac, who tried to shield themselves from the bullet shower.
“Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!”
He screamed at his unit just when a grenade fell near them. He knew that if he let it explode under the aircraft, there was the risk of the fuel tanks exploding and the plane catching fire, killing several of the passengers and crew on board, including his beloved Arthur, who had pulled his flight attendants out of the galley and brought them to First Class.
Feliciano yelled at Arthur and his brother while he was being dragged down the aisle. Arthur turned around and yelled back.
“But you are alive!”
Sadiq pushed them aside, making them fall over the empty First Class seats. Lovino got up so angry that his face was red, even though he was more scared than Feliciano, who was crying in a corner.
“What the hell is wrong with you, pushing us aside like if we were fucking rag dolls!?”
Sadiq smacked him across the face with his gun making Feliciano scream. He ran into the cockpit and pointed his gun at the back of Francis’ head, screaming and yelling.
“Take off, now!”
Francis sighed. The explosion nearby, on the tarmac, shook the airplane violently.
He said, looking at his instrument panel. Sadiq was looking nervously back and forth. He grabbed the radio.
“Engine ignition, number 4”
The Second Officer said while igniting the fourth engine from the instrument panel above the pilots’ heads, slowly, much to Sadiq’s dismay.
The Colonel and LaGarde approached the tarmac on an airport vehicle. The place reminded them of warzone, with the plane taxiing to the runway for takeoff and flames engulfing his team. Matthew had managed to evacuate his unit from the tarmac and take them to a safe place, but Alfred was lost between the flames. There was a second explosion that shook the entire airport.
Matthew feared for his brother.
Arthur grabbed tightly the armrest of his seat in First Class and closed his eyes, while hearing the engines accelerating and the sirens in the background. He peeked through the window and saw a ball of fire lifting up into the evening sky. He pulled down the curtain and pinched the bridge of his nose. That had been an utterly terrifying experience and hoped and begged to every God or deity of every religion on Earth that Alfred hadn’t been involved in that, and if he had, he hoped he was okay.
Arthur got up from his seat and went over to the Vargas brothers. Feliciano was trying to get his brother to recover conscience after the terrible blow he had received, but he couldn’t do anything. Arthur put his hand over the Italian flight attendant’s small shoulder.
“Fasten your seatbelt and hold him tight”
He went to check if the other passengers had their seatbelts on. They had their heads in their hands, protecting themselves from what had happened only minutes ago. It had been quite the experience, but Arthur – and he was sure, most of the passengers on board and the flight crew – was disappointed that it hadn’t turned out well.
“Excuse me, what just happened?”
One of the passengers asked him when he was doing the seatbelt check, grabbing his arm. He didn’t know what to say back to him, so he just told him the truth, or at least what little he knew about it.
“They tried to rescue us, but failed”
The passenger sighed and looked down.
“I can see that”
Arthur smiled sadly as he continued his round in the cabin. When he got to the rear galley, crowded with men speaking in Arabic, he tried to grab a small bottle of vodka so Feliciano could put some droplets in his brother’s tongue and perhaps he would wake up, but he was taken from behind by one of the hijackers he recognised to be the Syrian one. He pointed a gun at his head and he closed his eyes tightly when he was pulled flush against the man’s body.
“I restrain myself from killing you to prove your friends that they were wrong in attacking us. If I could I would. You are lucky. Fucking faggot”
He insulted him in Arabic, although Arthur could understand what he had said. He then pushed him against the last row of seats, where a passenger tried to prevent him from falling down again. He thanked him and returned to First Class.
“Put this under his tongue”
He said before strapping himself in the row next to them. In the cockpit, the pilots were done with the checklist and were now positioned for takeoff in the runway.
“Boumediene Tower, this is Pan Atlantic 103, requesting permission for takeoff”
Francis said through the radio, but Sadiq put his gun against the back of his head, pushing him forward forcefully. He spoke, through clenched teeth, in his hear, loud enough for the other pilots to hear.
“Takeoff, don’t mind the tower”
The Colonel had arrived at the tower as fast as he could and addressed the air traffic controller that was handling flight 103. Major LaGarde had stayed in the tarmac to make a head count of his team.
“I want that runway blocked. Now!”
He said, rather, yelled before the controller could answer Francis’ calls. He grabbed the phone and called again the emergency services that had been working on the runway. He spoke in Arabic.
“All emergency services proceed to runway 05/23 immediately. I repeat, all emergency services to runway 05/23 immediately”
The Colonel heard the sirens of those emergency vehicles that were not working on putting off the fire heading for the runway. He heard the captain’s voice through the radio.
He was interrupted by the voice of Sadiq, yelling in Arabic at the air traffic controller.
“Let us takeoff or blood will be shed! American blood!”
The Colonel approached the controller upon hearing the voice of the hijacker.
“What does he say?”
The controller turned around to face him.
“He says that he will kill an American if we don’t let him takeoff”
In the cockpit, Sadiq, who was a little familiar with the concept of flying, mostly the manoeuvres for takeoff and landing, pushed the throttles all the way forward as the emergency vehicles blocked the runway. Francis tried to pull his hand off, but he was too strong for the pilot.
“What are you doing, imbécile?! You will kill us all!”
The plane was rolling faster and faster by the second and getting dangerously close to the red and yellow vehicles stationed on the runway. Both pilots tried to pull Sadiq’s hand off the throttles, but couldn’t. In the First Class cabin, Arthur saw the commotion in the cockpit and went in there to see Sadiq thrown over the controls and the pilots struggling with him while the aircraft accelerated.
“What is going on?!”
Arthur yelled over the sound of engines and fighting. Francis turned to him.
“Try to pull him off the thrust levers!”
Arthur did as he was told, his arms around Sadiq’s middle, trying to pull him back but couldn’t. The Turk was stronger than the three of them combined. The First Officer saw his speedometer and the closeness to the vehicles and yelled to the captain.
“80 Knots! We need to takeoff now!”
Francis pulled back the yoke, feeling a droplet of sweat run down his temple and into his loosened shirt. Sadiq was determined to do as Allah had commanded him to. They would take off or die.
“Rotate! Que Dieu nous aide!”
The Colonel came out of the tower to see, with binoculars, how the plane lift its nose and the front landing gear crashed against and flipped over an ambulance, throwing it against a fire truck both of them exploding into a ball of fire. The plane retracted its landing gear and took off into the dark skies.
He knew that the ordeal had not even started to decline, but was coming back with all its force, and he had not seen Jones since that grenade explosion and was afraid he would have been lost in the flames in the tarmac, and so was Matthew.