It's called, quite simply, 'Oh'.
The plane journey was always the most relaxing part of the holiday, Nicola thought. You could kick your feet up, read a book, watch a movie, and, if you were in first class, be fed peanuts and pretzels by grovelling staff with plastic smiles - much nicer than biting mosquitoes and scorching sun. However, today, Nicola was finding it hard to get comfortable. She fluffed up her pillow, leaned back in her chair and snapped down an eyemask, only to pull it back up a few seconds later to rearrange her bed socks. The in-flight movie - an angry hum in the background - made her strangely uneasy and not even her iPod could calm her jittery nerves. She guessed it was natural under the circumstances.
It’s not very often a homicidal maniac sits next to you on a plane.
The man was tall with hollow eyes and beautiful brown hair that shone slightly in the artificial light. To any ordinary person, he looked like a respectable businessman, but Nicola knew better. She recognised him from the Russian newspapers. Alexi Ivanovatch was his name and he had murdered three people a few years ago. He had grown his hair out, acquired a tight goatee and swapped his blood stained machete for a thick of wad of papers and a black leather briefcase, but there was no mistaking him. Nicola would recognise that smile anywhere. It had first hit her when she was reading the newspaper, and now, sitting beside him, Nicola could feel her heart racing in her chest and her stomach folding in on itself.
The man’s head tilted towards her and Nicola glanced away, crimson flowers blossoming on her cheeks. She really shouldn’t have been attracted to a mass murderer but she had always had a thing for people with power, for people who were dangerous. It made her eyes twinkle like stars and the tips of her fingers drum nervously off her thigh.
With an almost feline grace, the man stood up from his seat and sauntered down the aisle, slipping past a hostess with a well placed pivot and a leap to the side. He bent down beside another man and smiling, started talking, his silky voice reverberating down the plane and into Nicola’s ears. The man, who was beefy and thick, a tree trunk with slightly more belly than was aesthetically pleasing, whispered back, his face straight and calm. The conversation passed back and forth for a few more minutes, dull of quiet murmurs and silent nods, and then, touching his thigh, Alexi stared walking back to his seat. His eyes locked onto Nicola’s for a moment before glancing away and leaving Nicola to stutter.
There was no doubt in her mind as to what had just happened. The beefy guy, whose convex stomach could seen sticking out into the aisle, was obviously a henchman, being given instructions. There was a gun concealed on Alexi’s thigh - she knew this because bad guys always had a gun strapped to their legs in films - and he had touched it subconsciously. Was it a warning? A signal? Was he going to kill her? Nicola stifled a strangled squeak and pushed her small body backwards into the chair, trying to make her body crumple, to fold in on itself until nothing existed, just an empty seat and an open book. Alexi seemed much less attractive now that he was planning to kill her, and she shrunk back as he approached.
Hours of terrified, awkward silence seemed to pass before anyone spoke.
“Would you like a peanut?”
Nicola shook her head and slowly, carefully, picked up the pair of headphones by her chair and slipped them over her ears. She tried to remember the nature programme she had watched few weeks ago. No sudden movements. Remain still. She had the vague notion that the animal following these guidelines had been mauled by a grizzly bear.
There was a tap on her shoulder and Nicola jumped, every muscle in her body tensing and relaxing at the same time. Alexi’s deep eyes, the colour of the sea, and flecked with the crests of white waves, looked imploringly into hers. “You forgot to turn the television on.”
Nicola froze. Was it some sort of Russian code for “You die now?” He didn’t sound very Russian - in fact, he had a Manchester accent - but Nicola knew better than to be fooled. They had teachers for that sort of thing.
Opening her mouth to ask for a quick, painless death, Alexi reached over and clicked a button on the seat in front of her. The television screen lit up and gunshots ricocheted through Nicola’s brain, the guns being fired in time with the beating of her panicked heart.
“There you are.” There was a moment of silence, a gap in the air and, glancing at a gleaming watch, Alexi said, “The film ends in half an hour.”
Now that had to be code. But for what? A thought struck Nicola and she let out a terrified whimper. He was going to hijack the plane. Why else would he need a henchman and a gun?
She had to do something.
In retrospect, she should have thought about the other possibilities. Like the fact he wasn’t actually Russian. Or the fact that the beefy guy was not his partner in crime, but his partner in life. Or the fact that the ordinary statement was not code, but was, in fact, an ordinary statement.
In retrospect, he shouldn’t have punched him.
It was al over in a second. The sickening crunch of bone against bone and the dull thud as his shocked, limp body, hit the floor. There was blood coming from his nose and his head slipped to his thigh. Nicola stamped on it with her heels, the sharp stiletto point slicing through flesh and snapping bone. He screamed and Nicola was suddenly aware of two large hands forcing her backwards into the seat. The beefy man was running towards his partner’s crumpled, moaning body, which was now being hoisted onto two empty seats. It was then Nicola noticed the flat line of his trousers.
Two metal claws snapped round her wrists.
Two hands lifted her upwards and leading her to small, dark room.
The door closed and everything was silent.