Monday 23 August
As Ruth stares at the suicide vest, numbly registering the explosives, the wires, the old woman next to her begins to wail at full volume. She rocks back and forth, and Ruth can discern a few Yiddish words here and there; realises the woman is beseeching her God to step in. This, apparently, does not amuse the Leader, and he lifts a hand to slap the old woman across the face.
"Please!" Ruth leans across her, shielding her from him. She wraps her arms around the old woman, shushing her, avoiding eye contact with the Leader. He regards her coldly, calculatingly, but before he can speak again, one of his minions calls to him.
"The Tower wants to speak to the person in charge."
He stands for a moment longer, watching the women huddled together, one already covered in blood.
"I will be back shortly to make my decision. I suggest you make your peace with your God."
Up in the helicopter Tariq taps Harry on the shoulder, turning the laptop toward him so that he can read the latest exchanges picked up from Ruth's mobile. Cold fear grips his heart upon reading the exchange. What on earth could the man be talking about?
He leans forward to speak to the pilot. "Can't this bloody crate go any faster?!"
The pilot glances at him, holds up two fingers. "ETA two minutes, Sir Harry."
Harry nods miserably, and sits back, desperately trying to clamp down on all the horror scenarios his brain is conjuring up. It's the longest two minutes of his life.
- 0 -
Heathrow Crisis Centre
Controlled chaos reigns as Harry strides in, Tariq hot on his heels. He stands for a moment, picking out the Head of Security for Heathrow and addressing him directly.
The man looks around, a look of relief crossing his face that the heavy guns have arrived.
"Sir Harry. You've been designated Gold Commander. Thus far we have only been able to talk to the pilot, who is under duress and not allowed to say anything. All he could tell us was that the plane has been hijacked, and is rigged with explosives. If anyone tries to approach it, they will blow it up."
Harry nods. "Our intelligence confirms that. I take it you have shut down all other operations at the airport?"
"Yes. All flights are being redirected to other airports. We have evacuated all personnel in the vicinity of the plane."
His eyes turn to the large window overlooking the runways, focussing on the solitary plane visible in the farthest corner of the airport. Harry moves towards the window, and picks up a pair of binoculars lying on the table. He brings the plane into focus, scanning up and down its length, paying particular attention to the windows.
Where is Ruth sitting?
His grip tightens on the binoculars until it is almost painful.
Focus, he tells himself.
When he turns back to the room, he finds all eyes on him, expectantly. Waiting for him to give direction, to give assurance. He squares his shoulders.
"Okay. Let's inform the following people, and get representatives here: the HS, the JIC, Six, Special Forces." He waits until someone scurries to a phone.
"Let's keep trying to make contact, to get some form of dialogue going. Who's the hostage negotiator?"
A man raises his hand, moves to another phone.
Harry looks at him. "We only want to know if anyone is hurt at this stage – we heard shots and are concerned. Yes?" The man nods.
"Tariq." Harry beckons him over to a table standing slightly apart from the others.
"Set up your stuff here." He bends close to Tariq's ear. "Not a word about Ruth being on the plane. I want that kept quiet for as long as possible."
Tariq nods, asks no questions.
"Tell the local Mossad Head of Station that I desire the pleasure of his company. And get Lucas, Beth and Dimitri over here as soon as possible."
Harry stands for a moment, thinking. "Find out if the Chief Israeli negotiator, Levi Cohen, is still in London. If he is, ask him to come as well. The timing on this is just too bloody convenient not to be linked to the upcoming peace talks."
Tariq watches as Harry moves back to the window, and stands staring at the plane, his shoulders tense.
- 0 –
Ruth is leaning her head back, trying to stem the blood streaming from her nose and lip, when she feels a small hand on her arm. She opens her eyes to see the old woman offering her a handful of tissues. Her face is blotchy from all the crying, but Ruth is surprised to see a new sereneness in her eyes. Not being devout herself, she wonders at the calmness praying seems to have brought over the other woman, who just then speaks softly.
"Esther," she says, introducing herself rather succinctly.
"Ruth." It comes out more like 'Wuth' from behind the wad of tissues. The two women smile at each other wanly.
"Thank you for protecting me just now," Esther says.
Ruth nods, takes the small hand in hers.
"I know that you're scared. I'm scared too. Very scared. But I need you to stay calm, all right? Men like these… they get off on our fear."
Esther sighs, and tears gather in her eyes.
"My fear is not for myself, Ruth. I have children, grandchildren. I do not wish for them the heavy burden of grief and recrimination that comes with losing a loved one to such a violent end."
Ruth stares at her, speechless.
Esther sighs again. "I lost my husband in a bomb blast in Tel Aviv twelve years ago. I know only too well the pain that comes with it. It is so hard not to hate the world, and in the end yourself, after a thing like that."
She notices that there are tears in Ruth's eyes as well.
"I think maybe you understand that kind of pain too," she says gently. "You lost someone?"
"Yes." Ruth's voice is almost a whisper. Esther nods.
"Do you have children, other loved ones?"
Ruth shakes her head. "No, there's no-one."
But almost as soon as the words leave her mouth, she knows it's not true. She sees Harry, standing forlornly on the dock as she sails away on the barge, and she sees how his heart breaks when she tells him that she cannot marry him.
She is loved.
No-one is paying attention to Harry as he sits at the table, reading the transcript on the computer. No-one sees the hurt flicker across his face as he reads Ruth's final words.
- 0 -
Heathrow Crisis Centre
Meeting of principals
Harry surveys the people around the table.
The Home Secretary, who came in person rather than sending someone from his office. He rises a little in Harry's estimation for that.
Richard Dolby, Chairman of the JIC.
Mary Whitaker from MI6, overseeing Middle Eastern Affairs.
Barry Creswell, Head of Operations for CO19.
Aaron Bloom, Mossad Head of Station in London.
And his old friend Levi Cohen, Chief Israeli negotiator for the Middle East peace talks.
"Right, let's get started. I'd say time is of the essence here. The facts as we know them at present are thus." Harry proceeds to give a concise summary of the situation. He is careful not to impart any information learnt from Ruth that could not have been gleaned in another way. He is not quite certain why he is so reluctant to divulge her presence. It is more than personal interest, though; something is niggling away in the back of his mind about this situation, but he can't put his finger on it. And the person with the ability to figure this out faster than anyone else is trapped on that plane. The irony is not lost on him.
When he finishes, silence reigns as those assembled digest the information. Mary Whitaker is the first to speak.
"They haven't made any demands yet?"
"No." Harry's eyes turn from her to Levi. "But it can't be coincidence that they are doing this on the eve of the next round of peace talks. That's why I asked Levi to join us."
Levi nods at the others.
"Agreed. Since they hijacked an Israeli flight, with mostly Israeli passengers on board, best guess is that this is an attempt to put pressure on Israel to be more open to compromise at the talks."
"Hmm. So perhaps some group linked with the Free Palestine cause?" Harry adds casually. Heads nod in agreement.
The Mossad man chooses this moment to make his play.
"Sir Harry. As has been said, this is about an Israeli plane with Israeli passengers, and the demands are likely to have a direct impact on the interests of Israel. As such, I believe you should give over control of this operation to Mossad and Israeli Special Forces."
Those around the table stare at him in stunned surprise. Harry is first to recover the power of speech.
The HS, though, senses an opportunity to make this someone else's problem.
"Now Harry, let's consider Mr. Bloom's request for a moment-"
Harry rounds on him.
"No, let's not, Home Secretary. Let's not forget the fifty two British passengers on that plane. Let's not forget that that plane is standing on British soil. Let's not sell our sovereignty so cheaply, shall we? Let me tell you what Mossad will do if you give over control to them: they will forego all attempts at a peaceful solution, storm that plane at the first opportunity, and cause a bloodbath!" He is on his feet by now, staring down the HS.
The HS looks around the table, then laughs a little, trying to defuse the situation.
"Surely that's an exaggeration?" He looks to Bloom, who studiously avoids eye contact, instead studying his fingernails intently.
Harry notices the reaction, and knows that he is correct in his assumption. He fights down the panic at the thought of Ruth at the mercy of Mossad. "Perhaps Aaron can rather explain to us how terrorists apparently armed to the teeth could have gotten weapons and explosives through El Al's very stringent security measures."
Everyone looks at the Mossad man. Harry waits until he meets his eyes again before continuing. "They must have had inside help, is that not so, Aaron? You'd be better served to look through the El Al personnel on that plane and finding the bad apple, and leave the running of this operation to us."
Levi has been watching Harry very closely throughout this whole exchange. He clears his throat. "Harry is correct, Aaron. MI5 should retain control of this operation. Israel has no right to infringe on the sovereignty of Britain. Please do as he asks, and find us the sympathiser among the personnel."
Bloom opens his mouth to object, but thinks better of it. He nods wordlessly.
As they all file out of the meeting room, Harry nods at Levi. "Thank you, Levi."
"You're welcome, old friend." He looks Harry over once again, noting the tension running through him. "Harry, might we speak in private?"
Harry nods, and wordlessly leads him along the corridor to a small balcony. When they step outside it is eerily quiet; no scream of jet engines landing or taking off. They stand next to each other, both looking out at the lone plane sitting on the tarmac. Levi sighs, and turns to Harry.
"You have someone on that plane, don't you?"