By Frank Fessler
Why did he gag her? That was the question beaming through Sandy’s mind as she struggled fruitlessly with the knots. She looked over to her younger cohort, a blonde rookie who could only stare back at her over her taped mouth. Tying them up sort of made sense, the stewardess supposed. Both her and Holly, her blonde coworker, could not possibly challenge the man physically, but tying them up did promise minimum interference from them. The passenger, who only identified himself as Hooper, had done a simple but thorough job, binding them hand and foot with nylon rope, then sealing their mouths with medical gauze. The knots, Sandy realized after a minute of struggling, were not coming undone anytime soon, and the tape clung to her lips like glue. But why on Earth silence them? They were thousands of feet up, it wasn’t as if they could very well cry out for help.
The flight began routinely enough. The few dozen passengers of Flight 309 filed in quietly, Sandy and Holly smiling in front of the cockpit door to welcome them. It was not until Sandy was about to go over the safety procedures that things took a turn for a worse. The sunglassed man with salt and pepper hair beckoned her over. Sandy took a deep sigh, expecting the worst. The airline that employed her had a suspicious habit of hiring female flight attendants under 26, and their outfits were designed to show off their figures; form-fitting white double-breasted jacket with blue lapels, white blouse, blue silk scarf, blue mini-skirt , black heels. She had a choice of clear nylons or navy blue (she chose the clear) and a black on white dotted scrunchie kept her dark hair out of her face. In the five years the attractive woman had been working for Northern Airlines, Sandy had had to politely decline more than a few men, and she was not about to make an exception for this guy. Soon she would wish a phone number was all he wanted.
The man handed her a note. Expecting the worst, Sandy opened it, and realized this was far worse than any worst she had ever expected; My name is Hooper. I have a bomb. Take the other stewardess to the cockpit. I will follow and give further instructions.
Sandy looked straight at him, his sunglassed face revealed nothing, but he shortly flicked one quick point to the cockpit to let her know he was not joking. Trembling, she turned around and walked straight up the narrow aisle, the passengers happily settling in and blissfully unaware. Sandy glanced behind her to see the big man calling himself Hooper walking right behind her, stone-faced. Holly, the other flight attendant, was already at the cockpit door. Hooper said his first two words, “Get in.” He then pulled back his dark suit jacket to reveal the handle of a pistol. Holly’s eyes bloomed into saucers but Sandy quickly put a finger to the new girl’s lips, not wanting to start a panic that might provoke Hooper into blowing them all up. Sandy saw no bomb but wasn’t taking any chances.
Sandy opened the cockpit door, and the trio went in. “No passengers in the cockpit, girls,” Captain Dawson snapped when they entered. Hooper pulled out the revolver, closing the door behind him with his free hand, and the Captain shutup. The copilot’s jaw hung open.
“Here’s the situation, crew.” Hooper explained. “I wish to hurt no one. Cooperate, and this will work out well for all of us. I am going to give all of you perfectly clear orders. If not followed, I have a trigger which will set off a bomb I stashed in my luggage, and we’ll all go up. First: You there-“ he pointed his gun at the young copilot, “Leave the plane. Now. I only need one pilot.”
Wordlessly, the copilot got up and left, looking no one in the eye.
“Good. You.” He aimed his gun at the Captain. “You stay in the cockpit no matter what. Try to leave, we all blow up. And you two beauties,” he now aimed at the two stewardesses, “In a minute I’m going to order the Captain to announce that everyone vacate the plane. I want the passengers to have no idea what’s going on, and I’m sure you’d just assume there be no mass panic. So stand outside the cockpit, smile and look pretty, and don’t let on. Clear?”
The girls nodded.
“Good. Now get out.”
The girls did as they were told, and sure enough about a minute later Captain Dawson calmly explained there had been engine trouble and they would have to change planes, so could everyone please vacate while we find another aircraft? The passengers grumbled, grabbed their belongings, and filed past the nervously smiling flight attendants, ignorant of the nightmare they were quietly exiting.
The nightmare had only begun for Holly and Sandy.
With the plane empty of passengers, Hooper ordered Sandy into the cockpit, but told Holly to remain outside with him. Sandy did not like the sound of that at all, but having no choice she entered the cockpit. She sat in the copilot’s seat next to Dawson, praying silently as Captain Dawson radioed the situation to air control. After about five minutes Hooper popped back in, gun in hand, and ordered Sandy to follow him out of the cockpit.
Sandy was mortified at what he’d done to her friend. Holly sat on the floor bound and gagged. Her wrists were crossed and tied behind her back, her ankles tied together, the white rope glaring in contrast to her tan nylons. Her mouth had been taped shut. “Face down on the floor, beautiful,” Hooper order Sandy, “Face down on the floor with your hands behind your back.” Trembling, Sandy kneeled, lay flat on her stomach, then crossed her wrists behind her. She was about to be tied up and there was nothing she could do about it.
Hooper wasted no time. No sooner was she on the airplane’s carpet than he pulled out a length of white nylon rope from his inside coat pocket and began looping the cord around her wrists. He wrapped the rope around her hands exactly five times, cinched the knot painfully tight, then went to work on her feet. He grabbed her legs, bent them at 90 degrees, then lined up her ankles side by side. He looped another short rope around her ankles, tied the knot, and placed her legs back on the floor. She turned her head to see him take a roll of adhesive out of his coat pocket. “You don’t have to gag us. We’re on a plane, we can’t very wellmmmmmph.” He slapped a piece of tape across her lips and that was that. The two women were bound and gagged. Whatever happened next, they were to play a passive role from here on out.
Cooper marched back into the cockpit. The helpless girls merely looked at one another, not able to do anything else. Tears swelled in Holly’s eyes, and Sandy could hardly blame her. To be so utterly helpless was humiliating, frightening and infuriating all at once. Sandy might have hopped to freedom, or tried to find a way to cut her ropes, or maybe wriggled over to Holly and tried untying her. But she was paralyzed at the thought than any of the above could get them all killed.
The two girls eventually sat up and took in what they could as events unfolded. They could hear some chatter coming out of the cockpit, though they had no idea what was being said. Eventually Hooper emerged from the cockpit, stepped over his bound captives, and walked to the back of the plane, exiting out the 727’s rear stairway. He returned with a bright silver briefcase, which he promptly set down. In the same heartbeat, he scooped Holly up into his powerful arms. Holly struggled furiously, writhing and kicking her bound legs while whimpering her protests as loud as she could through the tape gag. Sandy grunted while pounding her bound feet on the floor, shaking her head insanely. She knew how pathetic she must’ve looked but she wasn’t about to let him harm her friend without at least a whimper.
Hooper was all business. Ignoring the girls’ protests, he pulled a short length of rope from each his front pockets. He set Holly down in one of the passenger seats, untied her hands, then placed Holly’s left wrist onto the left armrest. He looped the rope around her wrist and through the armrest, then tied it off. He then tied her right wrist to the other armrest. With Holly now securely strapped into the seat, he turned around and, without a word, carried Sandy off and tied her to another seat, binding her forearms to the armrests as he’d done to Holly.
Well, Sandy thought, You can’t ask to be better strapped in than this.
Hooper went back into the cockpit. Sandy was tied up in a window seat. She saw all kinds of emergency vehicles and news vans on nearby runways. She looked away, hoping none of the TV cameras got a shot of her gagged face.
The plane taxied out onto the runway, gained acceleration, and shot off like any other flight.
Christ. I’m probably going to fucking Iran.
The flight roared to 10,000 feet, then cruised for what Sandy guessed was at least twenty minutes. Hooper came out of the cockpit, opened one of the overhead compartments, and took down the two pieces of luggage he’d been allowed. One was a large backpack, with countless outside pockets and straps dangling everywhere, the kind of gear that kids wore when trekking across Europe. The other was a small green pack. It looked like a mini schoolbag, but had no outside pockets or zippers anywhere. It was essentially just a green blob with shoulder straps. Sandy and Holly could only watch, their curiosity competing with their fear, as the large man stripped of his dark suit, revealing a green jump suit underneath. He picked up the silver suitcase, opened it, and to neither girl’s surprise the case was full of cash in neat, banded stacks. He stuffed the cash into the large backpack, and his formal suit. He strapped the small green pack onto his back, then put his arms through the straps of the bigger, bulkier backpack, wearing it in front of his chest. With one pack hanging in front of him and another on his back, he awkwardly stumbled towards the back of the plane. He turned to his two bound captives; “Adios, ladies.” Then he went right on walking.
Adios? But where was he-
The plane skipped and jolted upwards, as if hitting a bump of air. Briefly, Sandy thought the madman had ignited the bomb. Then she looked out the window.
Jesus Mary and Joseph!