Short Story: The Red Eye
Its two in the morning and passengers being processed through airport security are operating on reluctant energy, the sort a guy summons in the back of a taxi to nail the written-off piece of snatch he’s picked up clubbing.
Charlie Hand never picks up drunken women in a bar. Never has to. They come willingly and in sufficient numbers when they’re sober. The confident ones mostly; and they’re usually the most attractive. Attractive, confident women go for good-looking guys like Charlie. Natural selection, he supposes. They flock to him at work, where he plays sport, even in the street. Seems like he only has to smile and they’re in bed. As though his celebrity white teeth cast a hypnotic spell. Not quite as simple as that, but that’s how it seems to him.
Unlike other passengers on the Red Eye, Charlie does have energy. He’s working. This is about his fiftieth time on the early morning flight that connects west and east. The five-hour flight and two hour time difference means he gets on at two thirty and arrives at nine thirty next morning. After a nap in a layover room he catches a flight to wherever they’ve rostered him. Sometimes the nap is interrupted, but he doesn’t mind when the interruption is a hot flight attendant. They don’t call it a layover room for nothin’.
His job requires that he remain fit, which he does anyway ‘cause it allows him to take full advantage of his good looks. The travel makes him unreliable for team rosters so he works out at the gym, where he meets plenty of daychick members doing step or body pump. He has his own version of body pump he likes to demo them.
More often than not they’re married. And there lies the rub.
He smiles at the pretty young thing processing his luggage. She’s new. Katrina, according to the tag that bounces off the firm little tit as she handles his bag. Handles his bag. Now there’s a fantasy. Charlie can’t help but flirt. A strong chin anchors his smile, which shows off a slight depression in his cheek. The dimple alone gets the conversation going on many occasions. When he smiles his eyes narrow just enough to send a hint of mischief. Women love bad. Not psycho bad; but rock star naughty bad. Charlie’s brooding mocha hair is thick and soft, the type his concubines love to run their fingers through.
Katrina says he’s been allocated a front row window. He normally flies Business Arse unless for some reason Dina, his bitch supervisor, shoves him in Cattle. It’s a full flight, Katrina explains, so unfortunately she can’t offer a vacant seat next to him. Is there anything else she can do for him? Oh yes, how about a little warm head? He doesn’t say that, but he has done on occasion. Several times he’s scored an okay.
As he walks away he hears Katrina say to the woman on the next counter: “Check that out. What a waste.” He’s heard that before when he’s wearing the clerical collar. His huckleberry friend Marty calls him Dick Chamberlain and refers to his women as the Thorn Birds. Because they stick around and are a pain to remove, Marty says. Marty’s got Hollywood looks, too. Like fucking Rob Schneider. Them’s the breaks.
Once Charlie had a threesome with Marty and some chick they met at a footy game, a co-ed cheerleader and enthusiastic gymnast. Made for an interesting night. But Marty couldn’t keep up and after that experience, he decided that group sex might be okay for rugby league players who like grabbing each other’s balls, but any future threesome would be one where he’s the only guy getting laid. Marty can find his own venus flytraps.
Speaking of grabbing balls, his mother was always telling him how beautiful he was; touching him. Yuk! She boasted about him to her female friends—his soccer star good looks, she claimed, were from her side. He’s a Harry Kewell, a David Beckham, she would brag. Hollywood looks, she’d say; he’s a Ewan Macgregor—tough but sensitive. Yuk! No wonder his father left when he was a toddler. To greener pastures, no doubt. His mother’s fault he grew up poor. For all he knows the bitch could still be sucking dick to earn a crust. He hasn’t seen her for years, since he moved cities to escape her suffocating influence.
Charlie checks the security-screening checkpoint. Marty’s on trays. Meaning he takes the empty trays from the point past screening and carries them back to be used again. Takes a lot of brainpower, that does. Suits Marty. Marty was his boy for getting past the screeners with gear he didn’t want noticed. Like stolen jewellery, and his pistol. They’d managed to get a package around the scanner several times using a sexy little handpass they’d come up with, but even so Marty gets nervous and prefers him to sneak contraband through screening when he’s on scanner duty. There are too many cameras that might pick up the handpass. It’s a criminal offence with a jail term if they’re caught. Even worse if it’s the pistol he likes to take aboard, against regulations. Sky marshals are given Tasers but not permitted to carry pistols aboard. How weird is that?
Charlie texts Marty that he’s ready. He hangs back, lingers in the toilet waiting for Marty to text that he’s replaced the other guy on the X-ray machine. When it comes time, Charlie passes through screening like a pro, exchanging friendly banter with the guys that are bored shitless and resentful of the crap they get from aggro passengers running late for flights. He and Marty exchange nods. He’ll flick Marty a twenty later.
These days it comes easy. Charlie the entrepreneur has turned a problem into a successful business strategy. The problem being excess choice. Most men wouldn’t believe there exists such a problem. But Charlie finds it hard to turn down a beautiful woman. His diary used to be a nightmare. And women seemed to think they own him after about a week of dating. Not to mention the cost, which is unsustainable. Attractive women always want money spent on them.
That’s how he came to prefer married women. Rich married women.
Rich married women often have inattentive husbands. They crave a bit on the side, but nothing serious because ultimately they realize on which side of the bed their bankroll lies. That means they can’t give Charlie grief when he’s had enough. Best of all they facilitate his accumulation of wealth, although not always voluntarily. Rich married women open their legs and their purses, at first to keep him coming around and later to pay him off. He’s so used to manipulating relationships that now he finds it hard to distinguish the gifts from the valuables he pockets. In three years he’s banked nearly $1.6 million from a combination of cash and jewelry. Marty doesn’t know about that, and Charlie doesn’t intend to share. Any case, Marty’s happy with his twenties.
After purchasing a trashy paperback he grabs a box of chocolate macadamias at one of the coffin-sized concessions in the concourse. The chocolates are energy, and a tool for conversation, if he desires. Rich married women love chocolate macadamias. And rich married women tend to consume trashy novels.
He makes another trip to the toilet to take the Taser from his carry-on and strap it to his ankle. He shoves the pepper spray down his pants, careful not to set it off like another marshal did once. That’s a story in itself. Arriving at the gate lounge he stands at the perimeter and scans the passengers with practiced nonchalance. A couple of familiar faces, not threats. Regulars he has seen on previous flights. A few he can’t make out; they have their heads turned away, or buried in newspapers. Doesn’t matter. The threat level is considered low on this flight. His next flight later that day, from was a higher designated threat. An aircraft smashing into the iconic bridge would cause hundreds or maybe thousands of deaths and commuter chaos. And a devastating shock to the national psyche.
Out of habit he checks the combination locks on his carry-on. They are rotated to lock. He knows the jewelry is secure. It is a magnificent collection, the best he has snatched to date. Dave will value it and pay him cash, no questions asked. He’s tempted to check the value independently, ‘cause he doesn’t entirely trust Dave. Or anyone. But there are risks doing that, so he’ll be happy if Dave offers anything above $40,000. The pieces could be worth ten times that.
A group of well-heeled passengers arrives from the club lounge, and he spots her. His next target. She wears a Liberace-weight gold necklace with a solitaire diamond the size of a walnut between twin peaks of tanned breast bursting for attention from her V-neck. Two things he is an expert at and admires: jewellery and boobs. She has multiple bracelets on each arm and several more huge rocks on her wedding finger. Her skirt is too short and garish to be a business outfit, revealing perfect legs in stiletto heels and no stockings. Her nails would make Fu Manchu proud. She wears too much makeup for a woman her age, about twenty-five. Way too much eye gunk. Maybe she’s disguised herself for a secret trip out of town. Odds-on she’s a kept woman.
He chuckles. She carries the same book as him. A match made in Heaven.
The boarding call, and half the passengers struggle to their feet. The rest wait until the queue shrinks like a limp dick. Charlie’s not surprised to see his target take a seat in Business Class. He can’t believe his luck, however, that she sits in 1B, right next to him. It is as if she’s been presented on a platter, a sacrificial lamb. He places his carry-on in the overhead locker and smiles. “Good evening… I think I’m there.” He waits, keeping his eyes off the proud breasts.
“Oh. Hi.” The woman glances up from her book and does a double take. They often do that. It’s the paradox of seeing his face with the dog collar. Quickly recovering, she returns a wide smile, showing teeth that must have made an orthodontist rich. As she turns sideways for him to pass her skirt rides up to reveal an ocean of thigh that gets Charlie’s surfboard up.
He inhales sharply and cops a flood of musk and sandalwood. He shimmies across and slams into his seat, forced to grab one of her legs to avoid collapsing onto her lap. Unusual for a perfume to impact that forcefully on him, he thinks, as the dizziness subsides.
“Are you alright?” the woman says, concern on her weather-girl face.
“Fine, fine my dear,” he replies in his priestly tone. “I’m terribly sorry. Please excuse…”
“No problem, Father.”
He smiles. “Charlie.”
“Samantha. Sam…” She resumes reading, crossing her legs the other way to reveal even more leg. Before it was the Atlantic, this time it’s the Pacific.
Is she deliberately provoking him because he’s dressed like a priest? Sometimes women did that. Like the time up the back of a bus when a schoolgirl kept rubbing her leg against his hand, until finally he found his fingers going where many had gone before. Or maybe she’s trying to distract him. He glances around. The other Business Class passengers are occupied with heads in newspapers. No obvious threats. Further back, Cattle Class is settling down for the night.
After several furtive glances he decides the woman’s pale makeup is covering up a natural olive complexion. For a moment he thinks he sees something familiar. But then, he sees familiar in every beautiful woman. There’s no point trying to remember past lovers and acquaintances. Speaking of which, Heidi appears. He can’t remember when or where they had sex, but he’s certain they have. The flight attendant is characteristically blonde and buxom with a cute arse. Just how he likes them. He can’t remember how she was in bed. He’s relieved that she ignores him.
As the aircraft takes off his book slips off his lap. He reaches down to retrieve it and realizes his face is almost nuzzling Sam’s bare thigh. He raises his eyes, only to find them lingering on Sam’s two enormous idols to the god of plastic surgery.
Sam closes her book and looks down at him. She seems more amused than offended. “I guess priests live a sheltered life,” she says.
He scrabbles around with his hand. “Do you think I’ll enjoy it?”
“Got it.” He holds it up like a trophy. “Do you think I’ll enjoy the book?”
Sam laughs. “Oh. Well, it’s not religious. Unless you count where the bad guys torture someone by crucifying him.” She leans towards him and whispers. “And it has quite a lot of explicit sex.”
Charlie tries not to react.
Her face grimaces. “Sorry. I probably shouldn’t have said.”
Twenty minutes later they are at cruising altitude. The curtain between Business Class and Economy is closed so no cattle can venture forward. Charlie relaxes. On over eight hundred flights, he’s never had to use any of his sky marshal training. Several of his colleagues have been required to subdue drunken passengers, or to arrest people making stupid jokes about bombs, or occasionally to assist when severe turbulence resulted in injuries. But Charlie has had it cool. So he relaxes. Takes the dog collar off.
“Do you come on this route often?” he asks, deliberately ambiguous. The first tactic with a new target is to be friendly, get the conversation flowing.
“First time, uh…”
“Just Charlie. I’m not a priest.”
That gets her attention. She’s relieved, he can tell. Her eyes widen, her mouth opens as if to speak, then she grins. “Thank God.”
He chuckles. “Why?”
She leans in close and whispers, “Well, I was dreading how I’d get any sleep next to a priest, in this dress with only a thong.”
Charlie cracks a smile that da Vinci would have had difficulty painting. “I understand. So, how come you’re on this flight?”
“I’m a model. Legs mostly. Films and commercials. Shower scenes, bedroom scenes, they use my butt and legs and body. I’ve got a shoot for a shaver commercial.”
Charlie feels the blood flow rapidly away from his brain. Eventually he recovers his voice. “Your husband doesn’t mind?” He gestures at her ring hand.
She laughs. “Oh, that. I’m not married. That’s to keep the creeps away.”
“Hey, you know, that’s exactly why I wear a dog collar.”
Sam frowns, then giggles. “Well, you’re a good-looking guy.” She leans towards him and puts her hand on his arm. “So, if you’re not a priest…?”
Charlie moves his face close to hers and gets a whiff of that scent again. As he loses himself in her Mediterranean blue eyes any reluctance to reveal the nature of his job evaporates quicker than a raindrop on a barbeque. But he acts like he’s uncovering the location of the Holy Grail. “A sky marshal. I shouldn’t be saying, really. Promise you won’t tell anyone.”
She’s totally impressed, judging by her mouth, and moves even closer, her breath on his cheek as she whispers, “Well, at least you’ll keep me safe. Oh my God, are you… Do you carry a gun?”
Charlie throws her a grave expression, but inside he’s cracking up. “I can’t talk about that sort of thing. You understand…”
She giggles softly. Her lips are touching his ear. “Maybe you can show it to me sometime? I’ve never seen one before.”
He almost chokes. Out of the mouths of babes… Charlie’s disappointed he can’t flash his Glock, but he knows it’s simply deferred gratification. In his mind he’s got them booked into his layover room. He can flash it all he likes there.
The flight attendant, Heidi, appears with a tray of champagne. Sam takes one but Charlie shakes his head.
“Orange juice,” he says, focusing his attentions on Sam. “Can’t drink on duty.”
Heidi returns with an orange juice and stands there. She’s not going to pass it to him. He’s not going to reach out and take it. It’s a stand-off. Sam looks at them both and takes the glass and tips some of her champagne into it before passing it to him.
“Seeing as I’m wearing a thong you have to be a little naughty too,” says Sam, giggling and holding out her glass. She has a throaty English accent. “Bottoms up, Charlie boy.”
“You English, by any chance?”
“I am, actually.”
Charlie decides he might be falling in love with this girl. Legs, tits, the foreign accent. She’s got it all. Plus she’s a model. Models are rich. He sees himself in five years, a kept man. He clinks glasses and drains his juice in one hit.
“Good boy,” she says. Sam seems to visibly relax and puts her untouched glass down. “Actually, my father was from Pakistan, but mum is from Leeds.”
Almost immediately Charlie feels dizzy. Then tired and nauseous. “I think…” he starts. “Uh…”
After a minute he is paralyzed. He can’t speak. Can’t move, but he’s conscious and can breathe. Sam lifts one of his arms a little way, then drops it. It falls to his side. Satisfied, she pulls out plastic cable ties and binds his wrists and ankles and covers him with a blanket. She feels around. Everywhere. She finds the Taser and the pepper spray.
“Wouldn’t want to go off prematurely would we, big boy?” she says, pocketing the pepper spray. “You don’t remember me, do you,” she says. She doesn’t wait for him to answer ‘cause he can’t. “I was the maid at Mrs. van Horan’s. Where you stole the jewelry four nights ago. You interfered with… let’s call it a competitor operation. If you do what you’re told I’ll give you the antidote. If not, you’ll drown in your own saliva.”
She turns to the guy sitting behind her and mumbles something in a language Charlie can’t understand. An accomplice. The man stands and opens the overhead locker and hands Charlie’s carry-on to Sam. He can’t move his head but can see the man is olive skinned. Pakistani? Charlie blinks. He remembers a maid, vaguely, but Sam’s wig and makeup render any association impossible. He tries to think, but it’s not easy. Thank fucking Christ they are after the jewelry, not the aircraft. There’s a way out of this, even if he has to sacrifice Mrs. van Horan’s jewelry.
She rests the carry-on on her legs. “Blink twice when I say each correct number.”
She starts the first number wheel at zero. Charlie stares for a moment. He pretends he can’t blink. Sam makes a big deal of studying the Taser and switches it on. She leans close to his ear. His sense of smell hasn’t been affected. Now he hates that perfume with a passion.
“If I Taser you, you’ll feel every jolt, but you won’t be able to scream. Now, do what you’re told, Charlie boy. If I don’t give you the antidote in fifteen minutes you’ll be paralyzed for life. If you haven’t choked first.”
Panic sets in. He’s not used to being humiliated; he’s as helpless as a newborn Harp seal. He’s got to give them what they want and pray they’ll give him the antidote. He blinks twice. After six numbers the bitch has the carry-on open.
There it sits. His Glock pistol. The prize. Plus two extra magazines, each with seventeen 9mm rounds. Fifty one all up, enough to kill a third of the passengers. He was supposed to check it in with his hold luggage, now he wishes he had. He’d never contemplated this scenario.
“Don’t worry,” says Sam impassively. “There’s no antidote. What I gave you is just a powerful muscle relaxant. You’ll be fine soon. Best of all, you’ll have a great view of the harbour bridge.”
Oh, fuck. They’re going to crash into the bridge. My father was from Pakistan. She’s Al Qaeda. But it’s too late. “Ugh,” he dribbles.
Sam passes the Glock and spare clips to a woman across the aisle. Another fucking accomplice. Now Charlie is really shitting himself. Sam passes the Taser to the olive skinned guy, who goes up front where Heidi has her back turned preparing the meal. Charlie can’t see but he hears a zapping noise and a muffled cry, then the crash of several plates smashing onto the floor. Some morons behind the curtain in cattle hear the racket and laugh. Fuckers have no idea.
Out of the corner of his eye he sees Sam plunge a hand inside her bra and pull out several moulded bags that look like silicon implants, only made of white putty. Explosives! Christ. Her boobs deflate to normal size. Even smaller. He allows himself the luxury of a sneer. Or he would’ve, except his mouth won’t make a sneer.
Sam rummages inside his carry-on and carefully disassembles one of the pieces taken from Mrs. van Horan’s jewelry box, removing a gold painted cylinder with two short wires sticking out the end. A detonator. She shoves it into one of her boob bags. Unscrewing the stiletto of a shoe she retrieves more wire to lengthen the detonator cables. Then, with an antique-style pocket watch from the jewelry box, she connects the two wires. Charlie is no expert, but he knows that even a small amount of plastic explosive is enough to blow a plane apart, especially at high altitude. He recalls images of the Lockerbie Pan Am wreckage and fights the urge to piss in his pants, or worse. He closes his eyes and waits for the world to end.
After a few moments he opens his eyes, expecting to see the explosive packed against the hinges of the flight deck door so they could take over the plane. But the bitch just smirks at him and tosses the bomb to one of her accomplices like it’s a fucking Frisbee or something. The accomplice puts it in her bag.
After a few moments a tingling sensation comes over him. The paralysis drug is beginning to wear off. He manages to turn his head to see Sam and four of the other hijackers standing around, chatting and laughing. What the fuck? The flight attendant, Heidi, appears with a tray of coffees, smiling and looking none the worse for her ordeal. Then his mouth drops open wider when he sees Marty walk up the aisle to join the others. He tries to ask Marty for help, but Marty just ignores him. The prick.
Sam glances down at him. “I think he’s coming out of it,” she says to the others and leans over. “Feeling better, Charlie?” She checks his pulse. “Stay in your seat and be cool, Mr. Sky Marshal. We’ll have lots more to discuss once we reach the terminal. By the way, you’re under arrest. You have the right to remain silent and… you know the deal. I reckon you’re looking at about five for the stealing offences and up to ten if we decide to do you for bringing an unauthorised weapon on board an aircraft. If we go for attempted hijacking and explosives, hey, a friendly judge might even give us twenty, Charlie boy. I’m sure we can come up with some desperate motive that’ll sound plausible.”
He tries to say, “Fuck you”, but it comes out as drivel, or maybe dribble, like he’s been to the dentist and his mouth’s still slack.
Sam leans closer and whispers. “Of course, I might be able to persuade our friends over there to treat this whole event as a training exercise,” she says, her sweet breath brushing his face like a whiff of poison gas. “You transfer all your funds to me and tell me where your goodies are stashed. Marty reckons you’ve got over a million. You have thirty seconds to decide.”