89. Altitude

2.15P.M.

The bullet wound in his thigh screamed as the muscles around it tightened.

WHAM! The blow connected with the masked man’s face. Through the woolen material of the ski mask, John felt something break under the force of his knuckles. The man in the mask screamed – probably in outrage; probably in pain; probably both – and his hands came up to clutch his face, leaving him wide open.

John’s foot came up hard and fast in a move that he would later call “The Nutcracker”.

2.11P.M.

“THIS PLANE IS BEING HIJACKED! EVERYONE, PUT YOUR HANDS OVER YOUR HEAD!”

John was halfway through his orange juice when it happened. There was a little scream from the back of the plane – and it was ruthlessly cut off when something hit the air stewardess in the face, hard. There was an unmistakeable sound of a weapon being armed; and while a wave of quiet panic erupted around him, all John could wonder was:

How in hell did anyone get weapons on the plane?

2.16P.M.

BLAM! BLAM!

The gunshots went off, and as he dropped to his knees, John very quickly realized two things: one, that these hijackers were not very good with guns; and two, that he probably needed some sort of weapon of his own.

His eyes dropped to the hijacker on the ground, reeling from pain – but still very much alive and conscious. His fist came down – once, twice – raised for the third strike, but then the masked man on the floor stopped moving. John’s hand grabbed at the weapon that put the bullet in his thigh, and fumbled with it a little while under the cover of the seats.

Click.

All bets were off.

2.12P.M.

He put his hands up on his head, as the hijackers had instructed. All around him, he could almost feel the passengers of the plane breaking out into cold sweat.

“Listen,” the hijacker who seemed to be in charge announced, “We don’t want any trouble with any of you, alright? We just need to get over to San José, get off, and be done with this. Nobody moves, and nobody gets hurt. It’s as simple as that.”

John thought that it was a pretty good deal.

2.17P.M.

John leaped to his feet, giving the downed hijacker a good heel to the face for good measure, and had his newfound weapon held up straight, braced by his left hand. He whirled around as soon as he saw the masked figure clad in black just ten paces away from him, two rows of terrified passengers separating them.

BLAM! His first shot went wild – but caught the hijacker right in his shooting hand. There was a mist of blood, and the hijacker’s weapon dropped to the floor of the cabin with two of his fingers.

“GET DOWN!” John shouted, as something warm trickled down his leg – blood? Piss? It wasn’t the time to find out. The hijacker hesitated for a moment, and that was as long as he was going to wait. He closed an eye and lined his target between the iron sights-

“No, YOU get down,” came a voice to his left. His gun still trained on the injured hijacker, John glanced to his left – and groaned inwardly.

2.13P.M.

There came a flurry of activity from the front of the flight cabin, where the hijacker-in-charge was. John looked up and saw a lady with her arm wrapped around the hijacker’s neck in a headlock, the masked man struggling uselessly against her. Immediately to his left, the second hijacker lost his concentration and turned to watch the commotion.

Shit, seriously? He sighed.

The average human reacted within a quarter of a second. A quarter of a second was plenty to act with, but he had to decide quickly if he wanted to act or not.

Ah, hell. Why not?

John pounced out of his seat and onto the masked man closest to him.

2.18P.M.

The hijacker-in-charge now had the lady in a chokehold, his weapon pressed against her skull.

“I’m not gonna ask you twice, buddy,” he said.

“Really?” John asked, ignoring the searing pain that was shooting up his thigh. “How about I shoot your partner over here, and then shoot you once you get that lady out of the way, huh?”

“I’M WARNING YOU!” the hijacker-in-charge screamed. “I’LL BLOW HER BRAINS OUT! NO ONE HAS TO DIE, MAN!”

BLAM!

The hijacker-in-charge flinched at the sound of the gunshot, and almost pulled his trigger – when he realized that the deadly weapon was now trained directly at him. Some twelve paces away, his partner fell, clutching on to his bleeding shoulders with his diminished right hand.

“I’m not gonna ask you twice, buddy,” John said. “No one has to die.”

2.14P.M.

John knocked the first hijacker to his feet – or at least tried to; but the man proved to be stronger than he appeared, and shoved John painfully into the edge of a seat. The hijacker’s gun came up in a flash, and his arm fumbled clumsily with the safety-

BLAM!

John howled in pain as the bullet tore into his thigh. His leg buckled under his weight – but if he allowed himself to fall right now, it would definitely be the end of him.

With whatever strength he had remaining in his good leg, John launched himself at the hijacker – arms raised, screaming.

2.19P.M.

The hijacker-in-charge continued to hold the weapon against the lady’s head – and John thought if he really had to blow the man’s brains out the back of his head in front of all these people.

Then the gun was pointed at him, the hand that held it trembling.

John almost shook his head. Bad mistake.

With the immediate threat gone, the lady in the hijacker’s chokehold bent low, hugged one of his leg – and went tumbling to her side, tripping him with her weight! The hijacker fell, arms flailing-

There was a scream as a passenger found the barrel of the hijacker’s gun in her face-

BLAM!

And it was all over.

4.44P.M.

“Come on, Jane – what the hell was that?”

“What the hell was what?”

“You jumped the gun, that’s what. What happened to waiting for my signal?”

“Your signal came a little slow. Call it a preemptive strike.”

“Preemptive strike? I call it acting without official permission.”

“Big deal, John. It worked out in the end, didn’t it?”

“Worked out in the end? How about you write that into the report, and you have fun explaining how it worked out in the end?”

“Get that giant stick out of your ass. You just have your little ego bruised because this lady had sense enough to act while you were busy with your orange juice.”

“Goddammit, Jane-”

“And you got a little bullet wound in your leg. Big deal.”

“This isn’t about whose in charge, or who got hurt!”

“Yes, yes. This is about me, and about how important it is to follow orders. Blah, blah, blah, bureaucratic bullshit.”

“You’re insufferable.”

“Chin up, darling. Look – here comes the next flight.”

“Wait for my order this time, alright? I can only take so many bullets before I bleed out.”

“Of course.”

“Why does that only make me more nervous?”

“Because you still have that giant stick up your ass.”

“You’re a crazy little lady.”

“That’s why you love me.”

“That I do.”

“I love you too, you little coward.”

“Well – here we go. Help me to my feet, will you? There we go.”

“Mm hmm. There we go.”

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