Authors: Chuck Driskell
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and
incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used
fictitiously, and any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, business
establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 by Chuck Driskell
Published by Autobahn Books
Cover art by Nat Shane
This book is protected under the copyright
laws of the United States of America. Any reproduction or other unauthorized
use of the material or artwork herein is prohibited without the express written
permission of the author.
First Edition: February, 2012
honor of Matthew McKeever,
one of the finest soldiers I’ve ever known.
No more tears now; I will think upon revenge.
Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots
Friday, October 30 – Vienna, Austria
flight attendant pressed
through the throng of people, yelling to those yet to be seated that there was
no more space in the overhead compartments.
In a shrill voice, hoarse from herding countless others before them, she
instructed the passengers to walk back up and gate-check any bags that wouldn’t
fit under their seat.
Gage Hartline hefted
his small pack, assessing its flexibility, confident he could make it conform
The jet-way bounced as the
grumbling passengers inched forward like sheep to a slaughter.
Once onboard and
hunched over, Gage couldn’t find a single person wearing a smile.
Those that were in their seats looked at the
remainder of the passengers with a degree of annoyance.
It was as if they were somehow now different,
now that they had their own little piece of real estate.
Every few seconds, one of the new arrivals
would open an overhead compartment, only to be shouted down by one of the
German-speaking flight attendants.
passengers groused to one another, not sure whether to be angry with the curt
flight attendants or the dolts who didn’t listen.
Sitting on the
tarmac at rainy Vienna International Airport, the Lufthansa A320 was packed to
the gills: a Greyhound bus masquerading as an airliner.
Gage felt his ears pop as the door was closed
The flight attendants
prowled the aisles, their faces pinched as if they had been made to suck on a
sour lemon, probably on their second leg of four and seeing no end in sight.
He opened the seat-back magazine, thumbing
idly through the pages as he awaited takeoff.
Several rows in front of him and across the aisle, a middle-aged man was
complaining, gesturing wildly as the flight attendant appeared to be trying to
Gage perked his ears,
listening to the man’s accent and foul language.
He was most likely Austrian, stout with short
graying hair and hambone hands.
from his demeanor, Gage suspected the man was comfortable with violence.
He was throwing a toddler-like conniption, angry
that he hadn’t been upgraded before an off-duty airline employee had.
Come on buddy, the flight’s not even two
attendant explained to the man that, no matter his frequent flier status, with his
ticket class an upgrade simply wasn’t possible.
Finally, she convinced the grouch to sit.
Gage went back to his magazine,
doing his best to zone out a screaming child and the teenager slouched next to
him smacking his gum.
later, somewhere over the Alps, amid the requisite turbulence, the angered
passenger started up again.
particularly upset with the one flight attendant he’d yelled at earlier.
She was probably in her mid-thirties, with
plain features and wearing a stressed countenance.
Gage lowered the magazine to his lap and
watched, feeling his frustration rising.
The man’s voice began to increase in volume.
People craned their necks to see what was
One young mother covered her
Gage twisted the pages
of his magazine; he began to feel his pulse affecting the sensitive nerves
behind his eyes.
A headache was coming—the
damned headaches—and stress made the pain worse.
Get the pilot, lady.
attendant wasn’t exactly arguing with the man, but Gage knew enough about
confrontation that you don’t shake your head at someone whose blood is up.
Like a little girl on the playground, she
shook her head back and forth, closing her eyes for long periods.
It would have pissed
Gage off too, but more concerning to him was the passenger’s beet-red face and the
lunacy of the obscenities he bellowed.
a well-practiced verdict, Gage internally diagnosed the angered passenger as unstable.
He had seen it too many times, especially in
When they get to
this point—the nonsensical stage—the options become narrow.
Talking won’t rectify the problem, only an intervention
The man was in the
center seat, left side, standing hunched under the overhead compartment.
Upon hearing whatever it was the flight
attendant just said to him, he straightened, bumping his head.
The man let out a particularly obscene curse,
punching the overhead bin so hard Gage halfway expect to see an oxygen mask
Enraged, the man’s bulging eyes
cut back to the flight attendant and he began to try to get past the person
sitting between him and the aisle.
own eyes widened as he watched the fuming passenger finally climb over the lady
next to him, scrambling into the aisle.
Get the pilot, now!
The man was now in
the flight attendant’s face, screaming like a baseball manager arguing game-ending
balls and strikes.
The other passengers
were nervous and restless, a few of them shouting for him to sit down.
Gage wondered if the European Union put air marshals
on random flights like the U.S. did.
so, this flight’s marshal must have had a convenient Friday stomach bug.
Another flight attendant pulled at the man’s
shoulders; he shrugged her off, spinning his arm backward violently and
striking her in the chest.
Mouth open in
shock, she slipped by him and headed toward the cockpit.
Gage relaxed slightly.
Sit still, Gage.
She’s getting the pilot.
Just let this thing ride out.
Upon turning back
to the original object of his anger, the irate passenger shoved her with both
hands, knocking her onto her rear-end with a thud.
The aggressive action drew cries from some of
the frightened passengers.
An older man
had seen enough.
He stood to confront
the man, taking a well-aimed right cross into his lower lip, sending him flailing
backward against the drink cart.
were panicking, several of them moving forward, presumably toward the cockpit. With
one final attempt at restraint, Gage gripped his armrests and squeezed his eyes
shut, fighting his inner voice as he had done so many times since the incident
He could hear the infuriated
man screaming, spewing out threats to anyone he made eye contact with.
Gage felt himself begin to perspire.
His heart was a bass drum and his fingers
crinkled from his heavy breathing, the first symptom of hyperventilation.
Don’t do it, Gage!
This situation could escalate and then the
authorities might wonder who the hell you really are.
“I’ll crash this plane
if I have to!” the fanatical passenger screamed.
Gage’s inner voice
The magazine in his
lap fluttered to the floor as he bolted from his seat, over the drink cart,
sending Diet Cokes splattering.
lunatic heard him coming, turning with his arm pulled back for another
Gage anticipated, ducking easily below
the wild swing and tackling him low in the midsection.
He heard the air from the man’s lungs leave
him as his diaphragm muscle contracted.
clattered under the seats as he grabbed a shock of graying hair from the back
of the man’s head, twisting and lifting his own weight so the man would turn
from the pain.
As smoothly as if
Gage was on a mat in a gym giving a demonstration, he slipped his right arm
under the man’s neck.
Gage held his
position by tightening his knees around the man’s torso, squeezing.
More flight attendants were now on the scene,
the pilots no doubt following regulations by securing the cockpit. Gage brought
his mind back to the man below him.
Keeping pressure with his legs, he shoved his
left arm beside the man’s ear, clamping his right hand in the crook of the left
elbow, giving a small squeeze and hearing the man gurgle as blood and air
immediately struggled to gain passage to his brain.
Gage held him that way a moment, feeling one
of the flight attendants tugging at him while the passengers yelled that the
man on the bottom was the aggressor.
Gage lowered his
mouth to the man’s right ear, letting the pressure release slightly.
He whispered in flawless German, “Hey
asshole, can you hear me?”
nodded with some difficulty.
if you don’t do what I tell you, I’m going to crank down with my arm and crush
Gage glanced up at
the crowd, focusing on the senior flight attendant, his voice as calm as if he
were still sitting in his seat, reading his magazine.
His face twisted
into a livid mask as he lowered his mouth back to the passenger’s ear.
“Once crushed, you’ll pass out.”
He chuckled as if the prospect pleased him.
“Once you’re unconscious, I’ll have the flight
attendant get me one of those dull steak knives from first-class and then I’ll
give you a ragged tracheotomy, making you talk through one of those little throat
microphones the rest of your life.”
eased the choke hold again.
guessing you’ll come to just about the time I’m pulling a triangular piece of
cartilage from your throat while everyone around us is puking their guts out.
You still with me?”
A much more
Gage let his arm fully
relax, but held it in place.
was low and calm.
“When I let you loose,
you’re going to stay where you are, and you’re going to do what the crew tells
When they tell you to get
up, you’re going to apologize to the flight attendants, the man you punched,
and then to the passengers.
when we land, they’re going to arrest your stupid ass, and you’re going to go
You got that?”
Gage removed his arm
and heard the man sob his affirmation as he gasped for breath.
The once-livid passenger rolled to his back,
weeping loudly, making Gage almost feel embarrassed for him.
There was no telling what was going on in his life to make him so angry
over something as meaningless as a slightly wider seat.
Gage found his
sunglasses and stood, straightening his plain black shirt before he asked the
flight attendant to tell the pilot that there was no remaining problem.
The passengers stared at Gage, no doubt
wondering how he so effortlessly controlled the situation.
To a curious set of eyes, Gage was an
everyday man, not the type to draw a second glance, especially with his plain
clothes and concealed musculature.
walked with his head down, politely excusing himself if he were to bump
shoulders with even the most aggressive of people.
He held doors for ladies without flirting,
and (usually) made it a rule to mind his own business.
But if someone
were allowed to make a closer inspection, it would reveal Gage’s strong hands, nicked
and chipped from years spent in jungles and deserts.
Underneath his baggy clothes was a powerful
body that had been well taken care of, packed with muscles, yet lean enough to
remain mobile and efficient.
His only distinguishing
feature was a tattoo that few knew the meaning of—but it, too, was well hidden.
Everything about his appearance was well
thought out—he couldn’t afford for his past to get out.
The cabin broke
into applause as Gage ducked into the small galley, cursing himself for losing
He removed his sunglasses, correcting
a slight bend that had occurred in the commotion.
An essential piece of Gage’s wardrobe, they
helped him with his chronic headaches.
cousin to migraines, the throbbing head pain emanated from behind his eyes,
coming and going with no warning.
was surprised, however, after the stressful event he’d just been part of, that
the headache that had bothered him minutes before was now completely gone.
The captain, a
portly man with a trim goatee, appeared from the front of the aircraft.
Gage motioned him into the privacy of the galley.
The pilot objected, telling him he wanted to
make sure the unruly passenger was properly secured.
This time Gage spoke English, cutting his
eyes with mild amusement down the aisle to the man, still lying there.
“He won’t be going anywhere.”