He's desperate and now he controls the airplane. One bullet makes the difference.

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One brief moment I was caught in the open. A hostage had moved. Somehow I didn't notice in time, and there I was, my head silhouetted in the cabin window, a free shot for any on-the-ball marksman.

But they failed to take the shot. And I rounded on the overweight, four-eyed nerd, the one stooping to tie his shoe.

Don't move unless I tell you! I wanted to scream. Don't even bat an eyelid! Do you understand me?! Do all of you understand me?!

They did, after I put the muzzle of my 9 mm to the back of the nerd's head and released the safety. Four-eyes was instantly a quivering mass of pale flesh. I thought I detected the smell of hot feces in the cramped atmosphere of the cabin. The nerd shifted uncomfortably in his seat, trying to find the best position in all that sticky warmth spreading out around his crotch.

The FBI had cut the cabin air thirty minutes ago. It didn't bother me a bit.

I had expected it.

I had expected a great many things. Right now, the lack of air conditioning was the furthest thing from my mind.

By now, the cops had long ago run a manifest. They knew who I was. Or who I had said I was. And they probably knew it was an alias. They were probably waxing batty right now, trying to figure out if I was a nut, a terrorist, or just what I said I was, a man short of cash with a ticket to the fast lane.

Let those big birds fly, ladies and gentleman! Mother of God, let 'em spread those great, silver wings and take to the air with the sound of thunder!

The less they knew about me, the better. So I didn't speak to them at all. To do so would give them an edge, they would know the sound of my voice, could record it. If I spoke, they would try to bargain, they would use their College Psychology against me ... and they were smarter than me. There was never any question of that. If I let them get into my head, they would win. But they wouldn't catch me that easily.

I was just a simple man on the make. I had come up with a winning ticket to the fast lane, and they would persecute me for it. I had expected that, too.

The stewardess walked up to me, then, the pretty brunette who seemed to be in charge of the crew. She said, 'They want more instructions. They said they can't come up with so much cash so fast.'

Ignoring her, keeping my face down, using the large, mirrored sunglasses I wore to best conceal my face, I only handed her the same note I had been handing her for the last half hour.

It read simply, 'Item one: four parachutes, standard issue. Item two: five hundred thousand dollars in small bills. No dyes. No timed explosives. No electronic surveillance devices. No chase planes. Item three: fuel this aircraft to 100%. Item four: you have one hour to comply. After that, one hostage dies for every ten minutes you stall.'

She didn't even look at it, tried again instead. 'They said they can't do it in one hour. It's too much money!' she was becoming desperate. 'They don't have that much!'

I flipped the note over. On the back it read, 'The Fed auctions off ten to twenty TRILLION dollars in T-Bills every Monday. Five hundred thousand is nothing. You have one hour.'

I didn't let her take the note, let her only read and memorize it. Then I stuffed it back in my briefcase, filing it carefully with all the other notes.

I had expected a great many things. And I hadn't missed a trick yet.

The stew turned around and stalked back to the cabin. My hand was sweating around the grenade.

I had been careless back there, and I knew it. It was standard procedure during a hostage crisis for the FBI to post marksman with orders to shoot to kill. I had been lucky. Another mistake like that, even a split second mistake, and I wouldn't live long enough to enjoy all the money I was going to make.

Why had they missed the shot? I couldn't say, couldn't guess.

Maybe the shooter didn't have the right angle, the windage. Maybe he had chosen the wrong moment to pick his nose. Who could tell? They were the losers and I the winner. What more was there to say?

So I settled down to wait the long wait. Glancing at my watch, I could see the cops still had twenty seven minutes and eighteen seconds to comply with my demands.

I wasn't crazy. At least, I didn't think I was.

Then again, maybe, in a way, I was crazy. Crazy like a caged animal. Crazy like a beaten stepchild. Crazy like a Jew in a concentration camp. If I was crazy, it was a temporary kind of insanity, one that gripped only those who have been ignored by society too long, left to dangle over the chasm of emotional ruin without support. If I was crazy, then I had never known sanity, not even from the crib.

For I felt the same today as I had yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that.

I was unchanged. But I had placed my self in the course of change.

In fact, it was baring down on me even now like the gigantic grill of a tractor-trailer, change was. I welcomed it with suicidal abandon.

Glancing at my watch again (it had thirty something different functions, damned if I could use any but the stopwatch) I was shocked to see the cops only had seventeen minutes left. It was more than enough time for them. They probably already had the money together, anyway. I knew they would wait for the last possible second to deliver, though.

No sweat. I could wait.

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