Monday 23 August
Beth voices the thoughts of everyone in the room. They all stare in horror at the screen, where the image of Ruth standing in the door of the plane is sharply in focus. The one side of her face is badly swollen and covered in blood. And she is wearing a suicide vest, laden with explosives. Beth risks a glance at Harry. He is deathly pale, breathing hard, the muscles in his jaw bunched viciously as he thrusts his balled fists into his pockets. It is taking every ounce of self-control he possesses not to hurl something, anything, across the room in blind fury.
Ruth's voice cuts through the tense silence.
"I have been instructed to read the following."
There is a slight waver in her tone, giving away her fear and stress. It breaks Harry's heart, and he feels a cold rage settle deep inside the pit of his stomach, focussing his concentration.
She wants to tell us something. How could she do it? Think…
Without taking his eyes off Ruth, he instructs his team softly: "She'll be trying to give us a message. Look and listen for anything out of the ordinary – movements, code-words…"
Ruth takes a deep breath, and lowers her eyes to the page. It is trembling slightly in her hands.
Now. Please don't miss it, she thinks, as she begins to read.
"We demand the release of our brothers from the yoke of Jewish oppression…"
It's Dimitri that spots it.
"There!" He points excitedly, but quietly.
"She's tapping Morse code with her finger."
Beth grabs a piece of paper, voicing softly as she writes.
"M-E-T-S-A-D-A-L-T-H… Then she just repeats it again." She looks at Harry.
"Do you know what it means?"
He doesn't respond, but his face is a mask of barely controlled rage. Reaching over to the comms, he flicks the switch to talk to Lucas. He has trouble keeping his voice even.
"Tell her we have her message."
When he looks back at Ruth's image, Beth notices a tear in the corner of his eye.
Once Ruth has finished reading, Lucas lowers the camera and nods at her.
"We've got it. All of it."
He holds her gaze, trying to impart as much mental strength as he can through that look. Ruth takes a shaky breath, nods, and opens her mouth to say something, but before she can, she feels the hand of the Leader on her back. Terror floods her, and she grabs the sides of the door, steels herself against any attempt to shove her out and over the edge.
Lucas watches her eyes widen in abject fear, and he knows immediately that she is convinced she is about to die. He sees the hand on her back, sees her glance at the ground far below in horror. He rushes to the end of the platform, but she is out of reach; there is nothing he can do. As he opens his mouth to yell something at the hidden figure with his hand on her back, she is suddenly yanked back into the plane, out of sight.
He doubles over, rests his hands on his knees, breathing hard. His heart is beating at a rate he is certain is unhealthy, and he takes a few deep breaths, trying to get the adrenaline surging through his system under control. At that moment he is very thankful that this little episode was not broadcast back to the others; he thinks it may just have killed Harry.
- 0 -
As soon as the broadcast ends, bedlam erupts in the Crisis Centre. Dolby is on his feet first, waving an accusatory finger in Harry's face.
"That was Ruth Evershed! You had an officer on that plane, and you failed to inform us! This is totally unacceptable. You cannot remain in control of this operation as long as that woman is on the plane!"
Something inside Harry gives way; the first large crack appears in his wall of self-control.
"That woman?! Get your finger out of my face, or I will fucking detach it from the rest of your odious body with my bare hands."
The whole room is shocked into silence. Harry Pearce so rarely swears, or raises his voice, that it immediately gets the attention of all present. The HS steps between the two men.
"Now, gentlemen, let's not lose focus of what's really important here – defusing this crisis. Harry, I'm afraid I have to agree with Richard on this one. I think it's time to give control over to Mossad."
Harry takes a long time to tear his eyes away from Dolby, and look at the HS. He regards him coldly, but slightly more in control than he was moments ago.
"Let's continue this in the meeting room. I want all the principals present, as well as my team. I have some information to share with you."
Without a backward glance, he stomps off, leaving them to follow in his wake.
Harry waits until everyone, including Lucas, is settled before continuing.
"My officer-" Somehow he can't bring himself to utter her name before all these people.
"My officer managed to establish an open phone line to us, which she used to depart some salient information. Tariq."
He nods at the young man, who plays them a recording of the relevant parts. Harry watches them wince as Ruth's agonised cries echo around the room.
"She also managed to send us a message during the reading of the demands."
Once again he looks to Tariq, who zooms in on Ruth's hand, showing them the tapping of her finger. Harry's eyes are on Aaron Bloom when he continues.
"It's Morse code – spelling out Metsada."
He sees the realisation spread through the room, with the exception of the HS, who looks befuddled.
"'Metsada'? What does that mean?"
Harry divides his accusatory gaze between Bloom and Levi Cohen. "Care to enlighten us, gentlemen?"
There is a very dangerous edge to his voice. Levi meets his eyes squarely.
"Metsada is the colloquial name for Mossad's Special Operations Division. Harry, I swear to God, I had no idea."
He continues to hold Harry's deadly stare until he sees him nod and accept his denial. The HS looks between the two men.
"I don't understand. Why would she send us that message?"
"She recognised the air hostess from somewhere, she said. It was because she must have come across her on our database of Metsada operatives. It means, Home Secretary, that Mossad is behind the whole thing. They staged the hijacking, using this woman to incite a group of terrorists and then assist them in the execution of it," Harry explains without taking his eyes off Bloom.
The HS stares at Bloom, astonishment and disbelief written on his face.
"Surely not. Whatever for?!" He looks at the JIC Chairman for an explanation, but Dolby stares at the table instead. It is Lucas who provides the answer.
"To garner sympathy for Israel's cause in the UK and US before the talks start, and possibly allow them to get away with a more hard-line approach during the talks."
Levi shakes his head sadly.
"Is that it, Aaron? Is that how you plan to save your country; by perpetrating violence against its own citizens?"
Bloom shakes his head.
"Don't be absurd. We have nothing to do with this. Your officer is wrong." He gives Harry a challenging look, one that says: Prove it, buddy.
"Harry." Tariq motions him over, shows him something on his screen.
Harry glares back at Bloom.
"No? So the name 'Linda Meir' doesn't ring a bell? The same woman who is on the real list of crew on that plane, instead of the altered one you fed us? She is the spitting image of a woman with the same name that completed her training with Metsada in 2002, I have to say."
As he talks, Tariq displays the relevant information on the screen. The evidence leaves no room for denial, and the temperature in the room rises another notch.
Aaron looks around the room belligerently.
"Israel is being abandoned by its allies in its hour of need."
He glares at the HS.
"Your 'new' government is a joke. The alliance weakens you, and your pathetic, weak Prime Minister takes every opportunity to criticise Israel. We had to take action. Besides," he turns to Dolby, "if you had kept up your end of the bargain that Evershed bitch would not have been on that flight, and no-one would ever have known."
In the deafening silence that follows, Lucas puts it together a fraction of a second slower than Harry, but that fraction is all the older man needs. By the time Lucas reacts, Harry has tossed the table out of the way, grabbed Dolby from his chair and flung him against the wall. He hits him in the face with everything he has, his self-control totally obliterated. Something cracks in his hand, but he doesn't even notice. His mind is blank except for the thought to inflict as much damage as he possibly can. By the time Lucas reaches him and pulls him off Dolby, he has broken the other man's nose and jaw.
- 0 -
15 minutes later
The team is gathered around Tariq's console, casting furtive glances in Harry's direction, who is sitting at another table, watching the footage of Ruth again, brooding silently. Dimitri looks at Lucas.
"So Dolby knew they were going to hijack the flight, and he knew Ruth was going to be on it? And he did nothing?"
"But why? What did he gain from having Ruth on that flight?"
It is Beth who answers.
"Because it would give him leverage over Harry – force him to relinquish control of the operation to Mossad."
Lucas nods. "They never had any intention of negotiating. They want that plane to be blown up. It's the only way to shock the world enough to get them back on Israel's side. Dolby has always been a strong supporter of Israel."
Dimitri shakes his head.
"I think that was the point Harry was trying to make to him as well," Lucas observes dryly.
Dimitri looks back at Harry, watches him nurse his right hand, which is beginning to swell.
"He can move bloody fast for an old geezer," he says with a slight smirk and a note of admiration in his voice.
"What's happened to Dolby?"
"Ambulance took him away. Apparently he has a broken nose and jaw, and a cracked cheekbone." Tariq doesn't sound at all sympathetic whilst describing the JIC Chairman's injuries, his mind already on something else.
"That message that Ruth sent us – Metsada was only a part of it. What does the rest mean: L-T-H?"
Lucas smiles slightly.
"It's a message to Harry."
Tariq looks at him blankly. Beth helps him out.
"Love To Harry."
They fall silent, looking at the lone figure slumped before the monitor, lost in his own world of pain, anger, fear and grief. As they watch, he suddenly gets up, walks over to the HS.
"Can I have a word?"
They retreat to the meeting room. Harry sits at the table wearily, his eyes drawn to Dolby's blood splattered against the wall. He feels no remorse whatsoever, and that scares him a little.
The HS sits down across from him.
"What Dolby did is unforgivable, Harry. I'll make sure no charges are brought against you for this… episode." He gestures vaguely around the room.
Harry shrugs, at this moment in time he really doesn't care one way or the other. He takes a deep breath, forces his next words out of his mouth.
"I'm going to give over control of the operation to my Section Chief, Lucas North." He doesn't need to provide any reasons; they have been demonstrated more than adequately over the last hour.
The HS looks at him sympathetically. He never expected to see this legendary man look so desperate, so lost.
"I think that's a wise decision." He is silent for a moment. "And a courageous one."
Harry looks away.
"There was never any intention to end this peacefully. The only way we're going to end it is by taking that plane by force. I can't make that decision, Home Secretary. I can't… In all probability it'll sign Ruth's death warrant. She has that vest on; all it needs is the push of a button. We'll still be here by next week if I remain in charge. I'll tell Lucas."
When Harry enters the Crisis Centre, his team all look at him expectantly. They note the wounded look in his eyes. He studies them in turn, worried by their lack of experience, apart from Lucas. But he has no option. He has to entrust the life of the woman he loves to their care.
His Section Chief comes over.
"We need to take that plane by force, sooner rather than later."
Lucas nods, waits for Harry to continue.
Harry looks out of the window, towards the plane. He clears his throat.
"I don't think it should be me calling the shots when that happens. I'm going to leave it in your capable hands. Do everything you can to get the people out of there alive." He can't disguise the hoarse note in his voice by the end. Before Lucas can respond, Harry has turned and walked out of the room.
- 0 -
He finds himself in the bathroom, without being really sure how he got there. His hand is throbbing painfully. He wrenches off his suit jacket, loosens his tie and the first button of his shirt. Trying to breathe, to lighten the weight pressing down on his chest. It doesn't help. He splashes some water onto his face, before lifting his head to look at himself in the mirror. Rivulets of water trickle down his cheeks. He backs up slowly, until his back connects with the opposite wall, then slides down until he is seated on the ground. Closing his eyes, he cradles his head in his hands. All he can think about is that he has betrayed Ruth; that by relinquishing control, he has signed her death warrant.
"Oh dear God, forgive me, Ruth…"