When I entered the NYCMidnight Short Story Challenge 2016, my only hope was receiving some valuable feedback about my writing. I never expected to make it to the second round, which makes going to the next round is so much sweeter. As I scrolled through the results I checked the honorable mentions first before allowing my eyes to look at the writers and stories that made the top five for my heat. My jaw dropped when I read the name of my story listed at number four of my heat. There were some amazing stories entered and I’m happy to be apart of SSC2016. Good luck to my fellow challengers in round two. Hope you enjoy my first round entry as much as I had fun writing it.
The Trouble with Beautiful Women
Michael stood in line at the Heathrow Airport security check point. What’s taking so long? He glanced at his watch again and sighed. A sense of loss weighed him down; he missed how she felt in his hands—the sleek lines of her form and smooth exterior. As the line shuffled forward, he caught sight of what he longed for; what completed him.
The fact that this particular gun came attached to an Air Marshal was only a minor problem. He preferred a Sig Sauer, but any 9mm could fill the void, for now anyway.
He ducked into a bathroom behind a man he’d followed since spotting him in the security line. The non-descript man had been given a pass around the metal detectors and shared a laugh with one of the guards. An Air Marshal for sure. Although, the sky cop was probably well trained in hand-to-hand combat, the U.S. government made sure Michael was more skilled.
Three minutes later, Michael peered around the door. One quick over-the-shoulder glance, to make sure the man was still out cold, and he emerged from the bathroom with a small duffle in hand and a set of bruised knuckles. He pulled his baseball cap down over his eyes and blended in with the masses.
Oh, man, he couldn’t wait to get back to the States.
Michael stretched his long legs under the seat in front of him. After his failed mission to Russia, all he wanted to do was relax on the connecting flight across the pond. “…Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seatbelts, we may encounter light to moderate turbulence as we fly around a storm cell…”
The plane jostled its passengers and rattled the overhead compartments. The woman seated next to him gasped and white-knuckled the armrests. He yawned. Turbulence put him to sleep. Familiarity shone in her expression. He rolled his eyes. Guess that last gold medal immortalized him forever.
“Aren’t you that Olympic—”
“Nope. I get that a lot.” He angled his face away from her scrutinizing gaze. Leave me alone lady. He sighed and glanced heavenward.
Nothing about this assignment had been routine. He was just supposed to make contact with the undercover and steal a cell phone with bank account information, used to fund a terrorist organization, from someone named Katja. Timmons had promised that everything would go as planned. What a load of crap; he couldn’t even find Nikoli. The whole operation was a shit show from start to finish. He ran his hand down the front of his leather jacket. The carbon fiber gun he’d taken from that Air Marshal back in the airport bathroom, was snuggly inside his breast pocket.
He rose from his seat for a sweep of the cabin. A thick-bearded man eyed him with a dark expression that crept over his skin like fire ants. Michael cocked his head side-to-side, covering up a shiver; he recognized the man. God, he really wished the silencer wasn’t stashed away in his carry-on.
Michael turned and found a breathtaking red-haired woman behind him. Ahhh… “Um, yeah. Sorry.” He swallowed and moved toward the front of the plane and parked between the lavatories. His tennis shoes squeaked on the grey rubber floor. She sat next to the bearded dark-expression man. Who, without taking his eyes off Michael, kissed the woman’s temple. She turned into him. He whispered something in her ear that brought a half-smile to her face. Michael’s eyes traveled down her slender legs. Jesus. Even in skinny jeans, she looked fantastic, and the platform pumps didn’t hurt either. The gold from her anklet glinted in the overhead lighting. He exhaled slowly and imagined running his hands over her curves. Quit it.
After pretending to use the bathroom, Michael wandered back to his aisle seat. He grabbed his bag from the overhead bin, sat down and placed it between his feet. His hand met with the cool silencer inside the luggage. His large hand concealed the item. He waited thirty minutes. “I shouldn’t’ve had that last drink,” he said to his row mate and headed to the back of the aircraft for another fake piss break.
An Air Marshal nodded to him. These guys were easy to spot. Always wearing a light-weight, khaki coat and sporting a mustache. He was also too relaxed on an international flight, suggesting that he flew all the time. However, the cheesy haircut and cheap pants said that under normal circumstances, he couldn’t afford to fly overseas.
He reached the cramped toilet closet. Occupied. He knocked on the folding door; the person inside rambled a few words in Russian. Michael raised his hand to knock again and the door snapped open. An obese man shook his head and squeezed past him. The aftermath of what had just transpired invaded his olfactory receptors. “Oh—” He held his breath; his eyes watered. Whatever, he didn’t have time for this.
The ambient hum of the airplane rung in his ears. The plane pitched sideways. His hand landed in the sink and the silencer in the toilet. Shit. He face-palmed and dragged the hand downward. Blowing out a breath, he retrieved the silencer.
His phone vibrated in his jeans pocket. What now? He rolled his eyes and answered. There could be only one reason his handler, Timmons, called. “Job’s not over, is it?”
“Cardinals fly west in the winter.”
“I thought all birds flew south for the colder months.”
“Well, this species doesn’t; what can I tell you.”
“I don’t suppose they prefer British Airways.”
Timmons snorted. “Get real.” Great. A long exhale escaped Michael’s lips. “You know what you have to do, right?”
He sighed. “…Yeah.” Why did cardinals have to be so damn beautiful? He tapped “End” and pocketed the cell. The timing had to be perfect—just before touching down on U.S. soil. He’d need to escape undetected. Timmons would be waiting.
A downdraft slammed into the aircraft and Michael was weightless for a moment. He banged his head on the mirror above the sink; the glass spider-webbed. Blood dribbled down his forehead. Grabbing some tissue, he dabbed at the wound. Ow. Several women and one man screamed and the plane plummeted. What the hell? His lunch perched at the back of his throat. He forced his hands out to steady himself and waited for the plane to stabilize before he wrenched open the door. A flight attendant greeted him with a scowl.
“Take your seat, sir,” she told him.
He recoiled. “Don’t you know who I—”
“On this plane, you’re just another passenger. Now, take your seat.”
Yes, ma’am. He thought about saluting her.
Michael used the headrests for support and made his way back to his seat. All around him babies cried and the passengers whimpered, some chanted prayers. The Air Marshal was missing. The woman who sat next to him had tucked her head between her knees. Not going to help lady. The metal tube with wings dropped ten or fifteen feet at a time. Michael’s stomach bottomed out. His eyes darted to the window. Lights twinkled below. They were over land. The sense of relief that should’ve washed over him was replaced with dread. A watery crash didn’t always mean death, he could swim well, but one over land…
The plane shuddered as it made a steep banked turn to the North. Jesus, who’s flying this thing? Purses, laptops and other loose bags slid from one side of the cabin to the other. Michael gripped the armrests. The seat next to the hot girl was empty. Now was the time to finish his mission; he jumped out of his seat. She was slumped down and he would’ve missed her, except some of her firetruck red hair stuck out into the aisle.
He closed the distance between them in two strides. Her eyes went wide as he yanked her up. With the Glock pressed into her back and an arm around her neck, he marched her toward the back of the 767. He hauled her into the space behind the bathroom, next to the galley.
“Hey, you can’t be back—” a flight attendant warned. He flashed the gun. She put her hands up and backed away.
Michael frisked the woman in his clutches. “Where is it?”
“Where’s what…hmmm, Katja’s likes that…,” she purred.
I bet you do. “Knock it off. You know what I’m talking about.”
“Search my body more if you’d like.”
He took a deep breath. “I’ve got no problem killing you. Where’s the phone?”
“Nikoli is keeping it safe.” He clicked the safety off. “Okay, okay—” The Boeing made another steep banked turn to the left. Michael took the brunt of the force as he and Katja fell against the side of the plane. His finger curled around the trigger. Her body went lax. When the planed leveled out, he realized they were headed back out to sea.
“Ladies and gentleman, we are being temporarily diverted…” The passengers on the overcrowded plane erupted.
“Let her go,” the missing Air Marshal said with the barrel of a gun pressed to Michael’s head. He released Katja and she dropped to the floor then handed the gun over. “That’s it, nice and easy.”
“No kidding.” The Air Marshal cuffed him, and before planting him in a retractable seat reserved for the flight attendants, he handed Michael a key. The Glock was also shoved into his chest pocket.
“Who are you?” Michael muttered. The man smirked and walked away. He flung the dead woman over his shoulder, stuffed her inside the kitchen elevator and lowered her down. When he turned around, several flight attendants swarmed him with questions. They ushered him away.
Michael worked the lock on one of the cuffs loose. The bearded man came barreling down the aisle toward him, shouting in Russian. “What did you do?”
Just as the Russian reached the back, the plane banked hard to the left and headed South. The roar of the engines briefly grew louder. The passengers behind the man screamed in justifiable terror. Stress from the abrupt maneuver shook the plane and caused both of them to hold onto something. Once they leveled out again, Michael charged the bearded man. White rings surrounded his irises. “Katja!”
Michael used his shoulder like a battering ram into his opponent’s gut. He thrust his arms around his waist, taking him to the rubber flooring. Straddling his hips, he pummeled his face. Katja’s lover rolled up and head butted Michael. Blood spewed from his nose; he jumped up and staggered into a refreshments cart. The man pounced on his back, grabbing him from behind. They swung around. At six four, Michael easily took control. He threw his weight backward and crushed the man against the plane until he went limp. He pulled his weapon out and shot the guy twice in the back of the head. “Jeez, any more surprises?” he said aloud.
He turned to find more than a few passengers looking on him with horror. The Air Marshal parted the small crowd and winked at him. “Everything’s under control here…flight attendants, please clear the area. Give the champion some room.”
What? Why did he say that? Now they worshiped him like some kind of hero, some even clapped. One took video. Awesome, just what he wanted to see headlining TMZ tomorrow: Former Olympian Saves the Day. Yay. The passengers began to take their seats, but continued to gape at him.
A corner of Michael’s mouth perked up. “All right, who are you?”
“That’s it,” Michael pursed his lips,” just Bob. Not Air Marshal Bob or something I dunno, more creative?”
Bob rolled his eyes. “We need to get you off this plane before it lands. Ever done a HALO jump before?”
Oh, boy. “Once.”
“Good, then I don’t have to explain it to you.” The Air Marshal removed the carts from under the galley counter and revealed an access panel just wide enough for Michael to fit through. “Here, this leads to the animal cargo, it’s empty, but pressurized. Beyond that is another access panel that leads to the tail. There’s a control-box that will lower the cargo bay door. Everything you need is down there.”
“Why are you helping me?”
“Just get going. But don’t jump until we’re closer to land. Even you couldn’t swim far in this ocean.” Bob opened the panel and Michael lowered himself into the hole. A cell phone got tossed down before the metal panel was sealed.
“Who are you?” he said to himself.
Michael used the flashlight on his iPhone to navigate the low ceiling and uneven metal grating. Inside the animal compartment he found a small oxygen tank, helmet, suit and a parachute. Biting his nails, he studied the equipment. Christ. Oh…this sucks. He pulled out his cell and dialed Timmons.
“Who else would it be—listen, ah, I’m going to text you some new rendezvous coordinates.”
“You don’t wanna know.”
“I don’t like the sound of that.” Timmons sounded edgy.
“That makes two of us. Do the words, “fallen angel” mean anything to you?”
“Uh uh, no way, not again,” he sighed, “just don’t puke again—”
Michael hung up and texted the coordinates. After donning his new outfit, and maybe his last, he entered the non-pressurized area. He pressed the button to lower the cargo door, said a prayer and jumped out of the plane—grateful that HALO chutes were equipped with an FF2. Blacking out at 33,000 feet was almost always a given.
Michael didn’t exactly land where he’d wanted and had to walk five miles up the coastline on shaky legs. He cussed Timmons out along the way, blaming for him for a faulty jumpsuit pocket and his phone dropping sometime during the 20,000-foot free fall. Katja’s phone wouldn’t hold a signal. Luckily, he’d stuffed the Nokia inside the suit.
The Lincoln MKX idled next to a warehouse. Ashes from a lit cigar littered the asphalt next to the vehicle. Michael breathed in the stale smoke and salty air. A rotten fish smell clogged his sinuses. If it hadn’t been twenty-four hours since he’d eaten anything substantial, he would’ve puked. The driver’s side black-out window lowered. “About time you showed up…get in, this place reeks.”
“And your cologne isn’t much better. Damn. Do you bathe in that shit? I smell it out here.”
“Cute,” he sighed, “anyway, where’s the package? Nikoli said he gave it to you. Knew he’d get searched and didn’t want it to fall into some dirty agent’s hands.”
“I never made contact with Nikoli.” Michael opened the door to the backseat, needing to lie down after his long walk. His eyes went wide. Huh?
“Sure you did. I’m Bob Nikoli. Oh, and thank you, I could never bring myself to kill Katja. Damn beautiful woman.”