New York. LaGuardia. September 10, 1976.
Six-forty-five P.M. Flight 355 bound for Chicago, then to Tucson. I am going to Tucson. I have never been there before.
Long lines at the airport. Finally my ticket. Through security quickly. Onto the plane. Aisle seat. Runway. Forty-minute delay. Takeoff.
Have a drink. Smoke. A blond girl, about twenty-two, twenty-three, keeps going back to the restrooms. Pretty. At first thought she was pregnant. No, my imagination. Good figure, in fact. Walks quickly, eyes straight, matter-of-fact, almost anxious, in a hurry.
I never liked headphones. Robert W. Morgan—a name that sounds familiar, but is he anything but the DJ on the headphone? A red band on the horizon—at first slightly ahead, then in a slow drift to straight across from me—due west. Jefferson Starship in my ears. We are heading north.
The music stops. I check the plugs; change the channel. Doesn't work. What the hell, it's a short flight to Chicago.
"Ah ... ladies and gentlemen ... this is the captain speaking ... I have something to report which is unique. Please don't be alarmed. This plane has been taken over by hijackers. Please don't be alarmed. We are now flying to Montreal as they have demanded. We will do exactly as they ask. Stay calm. I request—no, I insist that you keep in control. I assure you that your safety—the safety of us all is my first and primary concern, and that I will do everything to insure that goal. Just do what they say, and they assure me that no one will be hurt. Again, I insist that you stay calm and follow their orders."
The blond again—a large, bearded man is at the rear of the aisle—she goes to him, talks, and walks back to the front to a slender, oily-skinned man with beard and dark glasses. My first thought—it's all a game. Then, I am part of it. But the man up front—a Palestinian? Damn. I have no religion. Or do I? I am a Jew. I am a Jew. I am part of it.
More walking back and forth—the blond. She speaks English well, too well. Assuring us not to worry as she glances around the first time.
The captain again: "This is not easy for any of us. Please stay calm. These people are fully armed. There is nothing we can do but comply with their demands. Do exactly what they tell you. I must inform you that they have a bomb, and threaten to blow up the plane if we do not obey them. Therefore you must remain calm and do whatever you are told." Do whatever you are told.
I introduce myself to the man beside me. I had admired how fast he read; didn't like his tie. I had sized him up as a lawyer, family man, working out of Chicago. Mostly right, but not a lawyer; president of a small manufacturing plant. Successful, he tells me, married, two sons. Frank Miller. He seems nice enough; quite straight. I tell him I'm a doctor. I realize I have told him a secret; I don't want them to know I am a doctor. I trust Frank. I tell him that I am married and traveling alone, that I am on a vacation to the Southwest—two weeks, but not sure where. I tell him that I am scared. We are at the point where it is interesting and yet a bit of a bore. Seasoned travelers who will be very late for dinner. As yet not much more. Getting scared. Frank asks the blond if he can use the lavatory. "Not yet." Getting scared. Montreal.
Raining on a dark runway. Not much to see. French separatists? Perhaps. I don't know who they are. Blond tells me—no, not me—tells a block of seats not to worry. Strokes the seat like a stewardess, drifts down the aisle smiling, uttering absurdities. "Do you have to use the bathroom? Okay, you are next after this gentleman here, and you third.... Thirsty? Can I get you something?" Blue eyes shining, blond hair turned up at the end. As if she hijacked the plane so she could play hostess. I don't understand. I watch her because she is what they show me. She doesn't matter. She makes no difference to me, to what I see as their leadership. She is the one that makes me feel better. But why?
The oily-skinned one—the one I fear is the leader and Arab—walks the aisle. Two sticks of dynamite taped to his chest, detonator in his hand. He moves easily. Eyes fixed in dark glasses. 1 avoid them. I don't want him to spot me blindly. No hesitation. Our shoulders give way as he moves to the back. Talks and returns.
Montreal. On a plane. TWA—bound for Chicago; I won't get there. I am not safe, and I am not scared. I keep coming back to Montreal as if the earth and the rain will help to define me. Help me to know where I am. Don't know. Montreal doesn't help; she is like the blond girl asking if I am thirsty. I am not trying to understand my thirst. "Can I get you a Coke?" Where am I?
I am in Montreal. Rain. Wet. A yellow light blinking, out the windows on the left. No, to the right. I am confused. Perhaps it is the language—à gauche, à droit, left, right, up, down. Where are they taking me?
It begins to settle in. I begin to understand. I have no choice. No decisions to make. They are taking me. The light outside is mounted on top of a car, beside the runway. No other lights, no buildings can be seen; nothing moves outside but the rain. I count the outside world by the number of lights. One. I am alone. I talk to Frank.
Have you ever been here before?
"No. And no matter how much business the company has back in New York, I, for one, ain't going back to that city." We both laugh at the joke, both laughing alone at the other meaning, but still afraid to share that meaning.
"You don't have any kids, do you?"
No, I don't.
I never wanted kids. I was always scared of that—to give myself to someone who would need me so much. It might be nice to have kids now.
How old are your boys?
"John is seven, and Steve's five and a half. Both good boys. Look like their mother."
We both laugh again. We grow closer. Preparing each other for the need we will have of each other. Frank gets to use the lavatory; the blond says it's okay for him to go now.
The big one with the beard walks by. He's wearing a suit, right hand in the pocket bulging a gun.
I take out a pen. I am ready to write my will. I give my soul to—No, I'll keep my soul. It is easier to live with the decision that I have something they can't take away. Something I can keep forever—till I die. Damn limitation. I am back to death. Write quicker. Fast enough to get it all written before I die. Christ. I may die before I get it down. Keep writing. Don't think. The thought of no more paper is as terrifying as the thought of no more time. No. Keep writing. I can control that. Control something. What if they take the pad from me? Prisoner. Captive. Watching them weave the bars around me. Spider. The katydid in West Virginia at Honey's farm—the one that she saved—pulled it from the gentle noose as the spider raced around it. But, Honey, you're interfering with nature. I remember she smiled—that soft loving smile she has, and a simple, "I just don't like to see things die." We laughed. We all laughed. Frank would have laughed had he been there. Do I have enough paper to ramble like this? The sun was so warm as I sat in the barn, my face to the open south gate. And the cows watching the world from the shade. Chewing, fattening, then sent to Chicago and slaughtered.
"This is the captain speaking. The hijackers have informed me that we are going to fly to Gander, Newfoundland. They have not told me of any further plans. The plane has been refueled, and we will be taking off for Gander in the next five minutes. Therefore, please return to your seats, fasten your seat belts, and extinguish all smoking material."
Everything is back in control. Frank returns. I extinguish my smoking material. The engines push; the plane rolls and we proceed to runway nine. I am making this up. Like the man in the flight tower—Okay, TWA flight 355 leaving Montreal at 10 P.M. nonstop for Gander. Cleared for takeoff.
The five minutes grow to ten, to twenty. Nothing is on time. We have not moved. It is still raining. Frank: "Have you ever been to Gander?
Yes. I usually fly Icelandic to Europe, and before, when they flew prop planes, they'd stop in Gander, Keflavik, then Glasgow and Luxembourg. The high spots of Europe.
The jets roar and the plane begins to move. So far I have seen four hijackers: the blond who is always patrolling the aisle, comforting the pillows; the oily-skinned one—now in the cockpit bent over the captain. One in a black leather jacket sits in the stewardess chair facing us; he holds a black pot in his lap. Wired and fused. And last, the big one standing at the back of the plane like a simple shepherd. Frank tells me another one is sitting in the back cradling another bomb. Five of them altogether.
We are airborne. Thirty thousand feet. Everyone is calmer at this altitude. No threats from outside, only the ground. The hijackers are relaxed. The blond and the shepherd tell us not to worry, that everything will be all right. The shepherd has taken off his suit jacket, and tie. He seems more comfortable. The seam in his pants has given way at the belt line in back. A cheap, poor-fitting suit that I am sure he bought for this trip. He would be more comfortable in gym shorts and sneakers, teaching kids, perhaps how to kick the ball. They would respect him for his size and deep voice. All wanting to hold his hand on the way back to school—somewhat afraid because of his size, but wanting the comfort of that large-knuckled man just the same. This shepherd's name, I learn, is Peter; I come to think of him as Steinbeck's Lenny. Someone who would have trouble with murder.
An hour out of Montreal; we learn something. The oily-skinned one in dark glasses emerges from the cockpit; the black jacket replaces him. He walks down the aisle inspecting the catch. Stops three or four seats in front of me. "We are going to pass out papers for you to read. Read them, please. You should not worry. We have no intention of killing anybody. All we want is for our declaration to be published in the American newspapers. We are not asking for difficult things. We want the world to recognize the injustices against our people—the people of Croatia."
Croatia. I knew they were not Irish, but feared they might be Palestinian.
The blond passes out the papers—Declaration of the Headquarters of the Croatian National Liberation Forces." I read it. Well written. A good political document. The right words, phrases. Someone who knew how to write. Believed in what he said.
We land in Gander. The mood is relaxed. We had been permitted to walk around the plane freely, even talking with our captors. It almost seemed as if some of the passengers were going to exchange addresses with the blond and the shepherd. It got to be that friendly, that illogical, at times. I had trouble understanding the hijackers, and now trouble with some of the passengers.
With so much movement, I felt safer about getting up myself. To the back. On line for the toilet. Sitting in the back was the fifth hijacker. Collar length, clean black hair, straight in front, brushed off his face. Black moustache. Maroon suit. He was small—five-six at the most. The kind of man one sees often in the street or subway or maybe washing dishes—rarely speaking—in some Greek greasy spoon, on Second Avenue, uptown. I never thought about the man before despite the number of encounters. They were always so quiet—incapable of saying more than phrases in reply—well held by depression. Dark eyes watching, trying not to get hurt.
I watched him. Didn't move much, looking out the window at night. His hands around the iron pot. Lid was sealed with black tape. Wires, a battery and switch. I was frightened of the man. If someone told him clearly and forcefully to kill himself, he would kill us all in the process. I stayed in my place—as closely as I could.
Gander. Nighttime. It seemed deserted. The rain had stopped.
All of us were in our seats. Hijackers in the aisle, moving back and forth conferring with each other—a literal chain of communication from the cockpit, to the one who said nothing in the back. Finally the blond said something: "We are going to let thirty people get off the plane here. We will decide and tell you who will be allowed to leave." They will decide what it takes to leave. Do I meet the criteria? I doubt it.
Twenty-five are picked on the usual basis—age, sex, infirmity. Another announcement from the blond: "Do any of you feel you should be allowed to get off because of illness or other problems?" Several people raise their hands, and wait impatiently to be recognized. There is a woman going to Chicago to get married. She can go. A husband and wife who are scared, especially her. No. A young man with a problem he is embarrassed to discuss publicly; he whispers to one of the hijackers. I do my best to avoid overhearing. He can go. A young man who had been on his way to Chicago for a stomach operation. He insists that his friend be allowed off with him. Denied; they both stay on. The hijackers have trouble finding the last few people to release. A priest is on board; he was asked if he wanted to leave but he requested to stay. A middle-aged businessman was asked; he suggested they let the women leave first. Finally thirty are selected, asked to stand, and begin to file out of the plane. I ask the young man with the personal problem to call my home for me. I am still alive, tell them for me.
A few details: the 727 isn't equipped with navigational instruments for trans-Atlantic flights: its range is 1600 miles; its engines are in the rear—the hijackers want thousands of copies of their declaration dropped from our plane over Paris and London—the papers would get sucked into the engines. A 707 is sent to Gander—our escort to Keflavik, our next stop.
We leave Gander. It is past midnight. I watch the sparse dots of light disappear, and we are over ocean. Blink a few times. It begins to settle in. I have been hijacked. Fall asleep.
The sun comes up over ocean. We approach land. I am awake. Have I been awake the whole time, or asleep since the beginning? Iceland. I have been here before, but never by day. Stone cliffs from the sea. The waves don't break on the shore—at least not from this height. Just the touching of rock and salt water. We circle past the airport. Flat rock. The city of Keflavik where the houses erupt from the rock like the rock from the sea. The sea so smooth and unfeathered. We land in Iceland—the far end of her long runway. I can see figures in the squad cars parked in the distance. Nothing seems alive. On ground.
"Stay where you are. Everybody just stay where you are. Don't leave your seat." The first direct command from the hijackers. No one likes being told what to do. No one moves. No one talks. We stay for an hour or two or three. The plane is refueled. I watch. I grow more passive, more tired, more hungry. I am drained. What time is it? Nine o'clock. In New York, Chicago, Gander, Keflavik, London, or Paris? I don't know. Sit up. Find something to do. Smoke, spit, cough, go to the lavatory. No, they told me to stay in my seat. Piss on the floor? Am I serious? Christ, come on, Richard. Wake up. Ask for some coffee. Ask whom? Wake up. Jump the hijacker. Beat the shit out of him. Any one of them but the shepherd—too big and too dumb, he'd kill me for sure. The leader, get to the leader. Or even the shepherd. Knee him in the balls, your fist through his jaw, crush the trachea, hope it occludes. Kill him.
"Would you like a sandwich?" We are still on the ground in Keflavik. It is the blond. Sandwiches and cigarettes have been brought on board. I take both. Smoke first. As I grow more and more tired, I wonder who it is I fear most, the hijackers or myself. The answer comes so clearly: Them.
I eat the sandwich.
How much more time in this place? Look for my watch. Three o'clock. Adjust the blanket, fumble the pillow, hello to Frank now across the aisle. Can't sleep. Finally we move. The escort 707 is first to take off. Then us. The plane smooths into air. Time now moves in uneven pieces.
Airborne. Over the North Atlantic. I write my will. We are headed for Paris. My books. Pamphlets to be dropped over London and Paris by the 707. The land I own in White Creek. We discuss how to behave, which passengers are breaking down. My paintings. I am worried about one guy in particular. Some stocks. He is always talking to the shepherd, too much. A little money. We decide to watch ourselves well. There really isn't very much. And return to my seat.
Others continue talking. The obvious is generally agreed on. Treat the hijackers in a courteous manner, do what they say, don't ask too many questions—and try not to trip the one holding the bomb. The last instruction is the one I have the most difficulty with; the one to myself. The bit of insanity that creeps out the eyes when given the chance. But I am watching myself. It is not Thanatos, not crazed. I don't want to let them get away with it. I don't want to be led around the world a good lamb, and at the end of it all when I expect to be freed, be gutted and hung. I don't want to relive the Jew in Germany. I will not give up. I will not pray. I ask the stewardess the workings of each emergency door. I try to find someone who knows bombs—if we cut the wires, will it explode? Are scissors on board? How long are the knives in the galley? Can we kill all five of them at once?'
Are they crazy enough to blow us up in flight? Have they decided to kill themselves? Are they so calm because nothing matters?
The flight to Paris. I lie in my block of seats. Things are calm. The hijackers circulate among the passengers. Someone discusses Croatia with the blond. I can't believe it when the passenger challenges the blond's political arguments. People are forgetting where we are, who they are. Some huddle around the shepherd, hungry for information we know he doesn't have—"When will you release us? Is Paris the last stop?" We are at once too relaxed and too anxious. We must police ourselves. Don't talk so much. Don't walk around so much. Keep the aisles clear.
We enter French airspace. A Mirage escorts us now. An incredible sight. I want to be the pilot of that plane. She is just across from me—fifty yards, wing tip to wing tip...The pilot holds her back so she stays with us. My eyes run down her straight lines. I am falling in love with a plane. She tantalizes, teases, shows her belly and banks, climbs, falls, disappears, comes back. Wing tip to wing tip.
"Pull the shade. Pull the shade." It is the end of any peace we may have had. The one in black leather is screaming as he hurries from window to window. I pull the shade. The light is withdrawn. One by one, all the shades are down. The plane is silent except for its engines slowing us down into Paris. The ground comes quickly. Time is faster. I take my pulse just to get a read on things. Eighty. Strong.
We land in Paris. The plane taxis for at least ten minutes. I imagine we are pursued by the police. I have no way of knowing. We have no vision outside. The plane stops.
Somehow I know that Paris is the end. Nothing happens for hours. The hijackers are no longer friendly, no longer smile. They are scheming with my life and I don't like it. What do they want from me? My name is Richard. What can I give you? Nothing comes back to me clearly. They ask nothing from me but my life. Smoke a cigarette and die. My last request. A Marlboro.
Silence is finally broken. The captain. The quiet, calm, soothing voice of my captain. I look to him as my savior. A second father.
"This is the captain speaking. We have landed in Paris at Charles de Gaulle Airport. We are in radio contact with the authorities in France. I have confidence that the world understands the seriousness of our condition, and will agree to the demands of the hijackers. Please remain calm and do as you are told."
Quiet. My captain is quiet again. He must be tired. I hunger for more information from his soothing voice—tell me again, "remain calm." Quiet. Another cigarette. The wave passes through.
I go to the toilet up front. Make up trouble opening the door and listen, the captain to the oily-skinned one: "Look, it's the French. Don't you understand, they are creating the problems. It is not the American press or the American government. Christ, the French weren't even going to let us land in Paris. They wanted us to fly to Reims. Do you know what is there, in Reims? The military, the French Military base. They were just going to surround us with tanks and say, 'Surrender, or we'll blow you up.' I had to tell them, 'Look, I have no choice. The hijackers have told me to land in Paris and I have no choice. We are landing in Paris.' And finally the French say okay."
The oily-skinned one turns in his chair. I open the door to the toilet. I look at myself in the mirror. I don't know how to describe how I look.
The fucking frogs. I hate them almost as much as the hijackers. Politicians. And the captain is breaking; I can feel it.
I go out. The shepherd is there. "Back to your seat."
The man in black leather marches the aisle back and forth, the bomb in his hand like a rifle at his shoulder guarding the tomb. Back and forth. Pacing for answers. No one knows what to do. They had not planned for this. Nothing goes well. The negotiations are sputtering. The jowls of French politicians are offering digressions, inconsequentials, oratories off thick tongues, "Mais monsieur, il faut que vous comprenez, comprenez, comprenez." There is nothing to understand. You do or I die. It is that simple.
The priest—a bishop, in fact—had taken off his collar, but now he begins to fumble with it. Why now? Tucks in his shirt. He goes to the cockpit. No one has asked him to go up there, but no one resists his decision.
I don't like this. Why the priest? If someone is sick they could have asked me for help; I am the doctor, the healer. Me, not a priest. I don't like this. Not a goddamn priest.
"My fellow passengers, my friends"—the loudspeaker. My God, they have got him on the loudspeaker. "My friends, the negotiations have reached a critical point. They are not going well. We must now pray." (No. No, Father, I am not ready to pray.) "Pray for our captain, for our government, for the French, for the hijackers that they will be strong, and be able to reach an accord. But, my friends we must also now pray for ourselves. I know that all of you are not Roman Catholics," (I am a Jew, Father), "but we must each and every one of us come to terms with our God as best we know how. Make peace with our Lord. Ask Him for forgiveness for our sins." (I have not sinned, goddamn it. I have not sinned.) "All of you who are Roman Catholics please now bow your heads and I shall offer absolution." (No. No. Please. Father, stop. Don't go on. You don't understand. I don't need that. Please. Stop.) "Our Father who art in Heaven.... "
[an error occurred while processing this directive] don't believe what is happening. God. I don't believe what is happening. Dear God. Dear God, we have no points of reference, no forum, no precedent. How do I address you? How do I come to terms with you? I am not ready to sell out, not to anyone, not even to you. I am being cheated, God, and it's not your goddamned fault. Do you understand? You're not even involved. It's my life, not yours. Let me come to terms with it.
Beating, pounding, aching, oh, I am scared. I am scared. Do you love me? I love you. Let me fight for my life. Don't you dare take that from me. Let me fight. I am scared. Can I fight? Is anything left? Is it all lost to heaven? Bishop. At least I can focus the fury at him. All is not lost. You are my target. Keep that in mind. The anger. The anger. Don't lose it, Richard. Don't lose it. The last seed left. Build on it. Make it firm, and plant on it. Oh, God. (Is it all upside-down?) Oh, God.
Write. Write. Dear Marjorie, mother and father, my sisters, my brothers, to the people I love—the pain of the love now more than ever—the people I love who are many. Write clearly. Okay: It is becoming more and more likely that I won't be alive tomorrow. I am terrified. But I want to talk to you one last time. I may never talk to you again. I love you all dearly. I love myself, my life dearly. Nothing is perfect. Certainly not love. But I love you in as perfect and imperfect a way as I know how. Please live your lives as beautifully and as happily as you can. Live too because you know I love you and you know how much I wanted to live. And be sad. But get over it, please. Get over it. If when you read this I am dead, then you are the last chance for my life. Take that chance. Don't let me down. Don't mourn me. Live with dreams and desires. I don't want to die.
Ground. Paris. I am in my seat. I am not sure how much time has gone by, whether it is dark out or light. I am not hungry, not thirsty, not tired, not hopeful, not fearful, not seeing, not hearing, not sensing. I am in my seat. I put my shoes on.
I walk toward the cockpit. Talk to a stewardess, listen to the cockpit. The captain is on the radio: "Mr. Ambassador, you have lived your whole life for this moment. Now get it done, Mr. Ambassador." His voice is cracking. I hear sobs.
Back to my seat. Waiting. Waiting.
The oily-skinned one storms out of the cockpit.
"Everyone up. Everyone up. Stand up. Up, goddamn it. All of you. Get to the back of the plane. Get moving. Get to the back. Come on. Move." No one is ready for this. We are slowly herded. Pushed into a tighter and tighter bunch by men with bombs used as prods. Sixty of us squeezed into the space of ten aisles. It is the oily-skinned one again: "We have been good to you. We have been fair. We told them where the bomb is in New York. We were honest. All we ask is to publish our declaration, that they drop the leaflets—and what happens? Nothing. That is what happens. Now it is time. We have been patient, but no more. No more. If they don't meet our demands, we will blow you all up. Do you understand? You better tell them. They better do it. And do it soon. They were supposed to have published our declaration, in the papers, and they didn't. They do it for the PLO; they do it for the SLA. But they don't do it for us. Well, we will show them. They will see we mean business. We are serious. I am warning you. They better do it. Or you will pay for it. All of you."
They are going to kill me. My thoughts burn in my head, dry up, and die.
"Stand up." Am I sitting? "Stand up." I stand.
Time was leaving. No longer the infinite friend and companion. The continuum threatened.
Fingers a switch. Click. Awakened from a dream, and threatened with sleep. I cannot escape. There is no chance as far as I can see. I see my heart fingered, open and wet. "Everyone up. Sit down. Up. Sit down." Kneading us like mud, rivulets from thick fingers.
A bullhorn speaks to us. "Is there a doctor? Anyone with medical training?" Yes. Oh Christ, yes. I am a doctor.
A man has collapsed. I go to him. I shall save him. I am a doctor. Yes. I am a doctor. His name is David. Diabetic. He has been groggy for the past two or three hours; now he is faint. Pupils, okay. Breath, nothing unusual. Pulse, 68, strong. Diaphoretic. Probably just fear. Maybe hyperosmolar state, maybe. Hypoglycemic? No, but give him some juice; not much else to do. Can we get him off the plane? Ambulance is called. Goodbye, David. Thank you, David. Goodbye.
The ambulance takes him away. He is saved. And I smile a faint, faint smile—soon drowned by the ticking that is the end of my life. No one cries, but I want to, desperately. The plane of us wants to cry and sob and rejoice that we are saved. We are not saved, and no one cries. David is driven away.
"What are you talking about. Stop talking." It is the bullhorn; talking to whom? "No one sits down. No one talks." We stand huddled together. Nothing has changed. I try to think about David.
The bombs change places. We are allowed to sit down. The oily-skinned one goes back to the cockpit. Three people are chosen to leave the plane: a passenger, the blond, the copilot. There is hope.
Someone else is sick. I tend to him. He has ulcers. I don't think they will kill us. I suggest they get him off the plane just in case. They refuse. He stays. I check on him as often as they let me.
We can do little but wait. The unfolding progresses. Negotiations are going better. Concessions have been made. The blond does not return; that alone still worries me.
They herd us again, the last time. Exactly the same. The bombs. The hijackers. But this time I am not worried. I am not going to die, and even if they kill me, I am really too tired to feel any difference. My emotions are gone. Muscles stand me up, turn head, focus my eyes. Long tight filaments.
The oily one, the one I have feared most from the start, emerges from the cockpit. I watch his hands without fear. He is smiling now. It is over. "Do not worry, my friends." My friends. If I had enough strength I would spit. "Do not worry, my friends. You will be all right. They have granted our demands. We are satisfied. You will be released." He smiles at us as if we have shared something together, some joint cause, some union of purpose. Am I supposed to thank you? He smiles at me. I look away; he still has the bombs taped to him and I don't want to be killed, not now. They tell us to sit down.
We are all relieved. I see smiles. Some tears. Some of the passengers thank the hijackers. For what? One of the passengers puts his arm around the shepherd, and the shepherd puts his arm around this lone member of his flock. "You know, Peter"—the shepherd's name is Peter—"have you and the others thought about going back to New York with us? You would get a fairer trial in America than from the French." What is he saying? Do I hear right? The lamb asking the wolf to share a meal? The hijackers confer once again. Break up. The oily one back to the cockpit. Emerges. Smiling. "Do not worry. You will be freed." Assurances repeated two or three times. Then, finally: "You see, my friends, we have a cause, and we wanted the world to understand our cause, a cause of oppressed people. It is like your revolution. A just cause. Now the world knows. I hope that you will support our aims. It is just; it is right. We will win, but it will be hard; a long hard struggle is ahead for my people. I do not care what happens to me. They can kill me—cut me up into hundreds of little pieces. Put me into jail for the rest of my life. You see, I don't care. They can do to me as they like, for the message is sent; I have done my work for my people.
"You are free to go now. You see, my friends, there are no bombs, they are not real. You see"—he unstraps the sticks from his chest, removes the black tape, pulls off a piece—"you see. It is just clay. Just clay, my friends. We never intended to hurt you. It is just clay. And the pots"—he removes the tape and opens one of the pots. "Just clay, my friends. Just clay."
I close my eyes. Nothing is real. My perceptions are all wrong. Everything is reversed, upside-down. I don't know what to fear, what to love. No one is threatened. I am six back in Brooklyn: it is cops and robbers. The hand in the pocket bulging a gun.
They had no guns. No bomb. No danger. No danger? All is backward. Nothing is as it seemed. I must have been dreaming. The killers are friends. The friends are fools. The game is for show. No one will die. Time to wake up. Eat your breakfast. Awake to the morning, the world, the test of what's real. Time to walk onto the runway in France.
It is eight A.M. in Paris. Bonjour. The dream goes on. Where am I? You have had a bad dream. Am I crazy? No, just relax. A bad dream? Yes. Everything will be all right. Mother is in the kitchen making croissants. What's that?
"This is the captain speaking." His voice is clean, no cracks. "We have all been through an incredible experience. But it is over for us. No one is hurt. However, it is not over for our hijackers. Their ordeal is just beginning. They have a cause. They are brave, committed people. Idealistic, dedicated people. Like the people who helped to shape our country. They are trying to do the same for theirs. I think we should all give them a hand." I look around me. The hijackers are smiling. The audience is applauding. It has come full turn.
We arrive at the theater. Stop clapping, you fools. The cadence continues. Tinker. Tailor. Actor. Fool. Let me out of here. Open the gate. Please let me out of here. No, the last curtain call.
It is the oily-skinned one. "We are going to give ourselves up, and take our cause to the United Nations. To be tried by the peoples of the world."
Last rites. A nightmare on stage. Boys come of age. Have a drink.
It is morning. Eight A.M. in Paris. I am on the runway at a far end of Charles de Gaulle Airport. I have a bag in one hand; the other is holding my hip. Other passengers are around me. The plane is behind me. TWA—flight 355 to Chicago and Tucson. It is a crisp morning. The air feels good. Green grass grows beside the runway. Wind in my face. No one else is around. No press. No police. No cars. No buses. No tanks. No curious onlookers. Nobody except us.
In the distance I see a bus approaching. TWA on the side. It stops several hundred yards down the runway. We walk to it. Get on. It drives us off the runway, past busloads of cops, squad cars, bomb trucks. Up to the hotel, then hundreds of pressmen, cameras, lights, questions. Walk through the lines. Say nothing. To anyone.
In the lobby I see David. David, my patient. My real patient. How are you? He is fine. He is not a diabetic. Malingering. I can't blame him. It makes sense.
I find Frank. We touch, hold on for a while. It is good to see you alive. Would you join me for breakfast? I am not sure who asks. Sit down at the counter. I speak French, order ham and eggs for both of us. The coffee smells good.
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