Monday 23 November
Harry stares at Levi.
How did he work that out so quickly?
He plays for time.
"What makes you say that?"
Levi smiles, looks back to the plane.
"Your guesses over what this is about, and how it was done, are a little too specific. You know more than you're saying."
After mulling this over, Harry knows there is nothing to be gained from denying it, and decides to be honest with his friend.
"My senior analyst is on that flight. Quite by accident. We had no forewarning that anything was in the offing – ironically she was on her way to assist with the peace talks."
At the use of the word 'she' Levi turns his head, studies the man next to him. When Harry meets his eyes, he reads empathy in the other man's expression.
"I think she is perhaps more than an analyst to you?" Levi asks gently.
Harry, taken aback, wonders bleakly whether his love for Ruth is as obvious to everyone else as it apparently is to Levi.
"You know me too well," he replies with a resigned smile, looking down at his hands on the railing before continuing.
"But, she doesn't share my feelings, Levi. She wants only a professional relationship with me, so if you're trying to imply that my judgement is impaired by the fact that I'm sleeping with her…"
Levi laughs, a harsh, bitter laugh.
"Old friend, you and I both know that no reciprocation is needed for a man's judgement to be impaired by love."
The two men stand silently for a moment, thinking about the shared pain of rejection.
"…No," Harry finally sighs. "How is Ana?"
The other man shrugs.
"The same. My daughter still hates me for choosing the country over her." He turns to Harry.
"I do not wish for your analyst to hate you for the same reason, Harry. But sometimes… events leave us no choice. I will do all I can to help you save her, but I will not allow you to compromise the peace talks or the outcome of this operation for one life."
Before Harry can reply, Tariq bursts through the door.
"Harry, the leader of the group wants to speak to us."
- 0 -
A tense silence permeates the Crisis Centre as everyone waits for the comms to come to life. Harry looks over at Tariq, murmurs softly:
"Voice recognition as soon as you have enough to work with."
"I'm on it." The young techie checks the recording equipment for the umpteenth time.
A loud crackle breaks the silence, and then the voice of the Leader is heard:
"Listen carefully. I want a television crew - let's make it the BBC – to approach the plane in an hour's time. There must be only two people, a reporter and a cameraman. I will deliver my message to them, and I want it to be broadcast live. If anyone else approaches, I will blow up this plane. There will be no further communication until then, and no negotiation. One hour."
The connection goes dead.
"Tariq?" Harry raises an eyebrow at him.
"The programme's running, it may take a while."
Stifling the urge to let his impatience show, Harry instead nods to the rest of the team. They gather round.
"I want one of you as part of the BBC crew."
"They may know the BBC reporters. We'll have to use an actual one," Lucas logically points out.
"Fine. I saw Sally Williams among the gaggle of reporters earlier, get her over here. Lucas, you'll be cameraman. You know the drill – get as much detail as possible on tape."
Harry turns again to Tariq.
"You get a way to restrict the broadcast of that feed, so that they can see it as live on the plane, but that no-one else can pick it up."
Dimitri glances at Beth, then back to Harry.
"What about us?"
"You two find me a way to neutralise the terrorists without blowing everyone on that plane to smithereens. Lucas will help you until it's time for the broadcast. Everyone clear?"
The team members nod, and disperse to their allotted tasks.
"Beth." Harry's voice calls her back.
"I also want you to keep an eye on the Mossad people. Make sure they're not planning something the rest of us are unaware of."
She nods and turns away when, unbidden, an image of Harry's face when Ruth was hurt enters her mind. She turns back to him.
"We'll get her back safely," she promises. "We'll get them all back."
Harry looks at her for a long time, swallows, nods, and walks away.
- 0 -
40 minutes later
Ruth and Esther are sitting quietly, each lost in their own thoughts, when the Leader strides down the aisle to them. He has the suicide vest in his hand. Taking the older woman's hand, Ruth squeezes it tightly, trying to shore her up. Or perhaps trying to shore herself up. They share a terrified look, before Ruth sees Esther physically steeling herself and turning calm eyes to the approaching figure. He comes to a stop next to them.
"I have decided." He draws out the moment, perversely delighting in their terror. Looking between them with slow deliberation, his eyes finally settle on Esther.
"It will be more fitting for a Jew to deliver my message. I want your despicable government to see one of their own on the altar."
"Harry!" Tariq beckons him over to read the latest transcripts.
Harry's heart sinks as he reads them. He feels a moment of elation that the Leader has obviously chosen the other woman, before he is overcome with shame at the selfish reaction.
Ruth closes her eyes, and feels a tremor run through Esther's hand. And yet the older woman does not make a sound. She feels tears well up in her eyes, feels boundless admiration for the courage Esther is displaying. When she looks up, she notices that the air hostess is standing next to the Leader. Their eyes meet for a moment, and Ruth can swear she sees a fleeting glimpse of sympathy in the other woman's face, before it is gone. Then the air hostess turns to speak to the Leader, and the sound of her voice is the final jog Ruth's memory needs. She knows this woman. And she finally sees the full picture.
As Harry and Tariq watch, the transcription programme continues after a short quiet spell.
FEMALE VOICE 3: You have to be careful when you go out there to deliver your message. I'm sure by now Mossad has snipers in place, and they'll take you out at the first opportunity.
Harry frowns at Tariq. "Who the hell is that?"
The young man shrugs. "Maybe another passenger. But why would she help the terrorists? Or…"
Harry completes the sentence for him. "The air hostess Ruth said was helping them. The one she recognised from somewhere." He stares at the screen, lost in thought. Makes a decision.
"Tariq. I want you to get hold of the list of El Al personnel on that plane. I don't care how many laws you break in getting it. If Ruth recognises her, she must be in our systems somewhere. Cross-check if you can find any matches."
The Leader turns to the air hostess.
"Don't worry. That's why I'm sending the Jewish woman out there."
A voice interrupts.
"No. Take me."
Harry is about to turn away when the transcription begins again. He glances at it, freezes, looks at Tariq in consternation, then looks at the screen again. It still reads the same.
RUTH: No. Take me.
"Oh, God, no…"
Tariq has never heard his boss sound quite as anguished before.
The Leader stares at Ruth.
"Now why would I do that?"
She holds his look.
"Because we're in England. It's going to be British snipers out there, and British people making the decisions. You'll get more cooperation if you remind them that there are a lot of British citizens on this plane."
He looks from her to Esther and back. She can see his desire for vengeance warring with his larger goals, so she continues.
"You know I'm right. Also, perhaps they will be better persuaded by evidence of your willingness to use violence when needed." She gestures to her damaged, bloodied face.
He makes his decision.
"Fine. Get up."
He turns away dismissively.
"Bring her," he commands the air hostess before walking away.
When Ruth moves past Esther, the older woman grabs her hand with both of her own.
"Why Ruth, why did you do it?"
Ruth gives her a sad smile.
"Because you have children, grandchildren… And there's a man I need to give a message to."
- 0 -
Heathrow Crisis Centre
Lucas is briefing Sally Williams on what they want her to do, whilst Harry is pacing up and down restlessly. Even though he is quite pale, he is sweating, fidgety, and more on edge than Lucas has ever seen him. He finishes his briefing, and asks Sally to wait for him outside. As he fiddles with the camera, familiarising himself with it, he becomes aware that Harry has stopped pacing, and has slumped against the wall, staring at his shoes forlornly. There is nothing he can say that will make it better, so he keeps quiet. It is Harry that breaks the silence.
He looks at his boss. Harry searches for the right words.
"Tell her I…" He trails off, starts again. "Just… reassure her as best you can. Please?"
Lucas nods wordlessly, and briefly lays his hand on Harry's shoulder as he passes him.
Ruth stands, numb and scared beyond belief, as they put the suicide vest on her. She reminds herself why she is doing this: that it is the only way she can get the information she has to Harry.
Oh God, Harry…
She cannot bear the thought that her blowing up may be the last image he'll ever see of her.
When they are done, the Leader thrusts a piece of paper into her hands.
"You will open the door, and stand in it. Then you will read that message into the camera. You will not add anything, and you will not leave anything out. Is that clear?"
She nods. He continues.
"I will be standing right next to you, out of sight. If you try anything, I will shove you out the door, and then blow you up. With this." He holds up a remote detonator.
Ruth swallows down her panic.
"I understand. I won't try anything."
"Good. You do as I say, and I may let you live at the end of it."
The implication that he just as well may not, is crystal clear.
He pushes her to the door, and takes up position to the side of it. She turns the handle, opens it, and steps into the opening. She looks up to see Sally Williams and a cameraman on a raised platform in front of her. The cameraman lowers his camera for a moment and smiles reassuringly at her. Her heart leaps.
It gives her the courage to do what she must do. She begins to speak.