“You’re a grand ol’ flag. You’re a high-flying flag.”
I didn’t know I was going to die. I did, however, embody a three-dimensional definition of temporary insanity while trying my best to not forget the first rule in live action suspense.
You gotta look the part, and I probably looked scared shitless.
How could I not? I was flying a god-damned airplane directly into a hostile country. I just couldn’t possibly consider staying afloat in an unflushed toilet bowl to be a major victory. Certainly not one attributed to someone other than Tom Clancy.
There wasn’t a prejudice-free editorial board in the land willing to lift the new worldwide ban on any and all commercial writers implicating harm against Arab Muslims for financial gain. This meant that my landing to come was sure to be as rough as a Chinese baby’s bottom after the little Tigger went pooh bear pant-less in a public square four-thousand miles away from Chengzou.
Exhilarating. That was the only way I could describe my first flight over the Sinai Peninsula inside a fuel-seeking flamethrower. I had chosen to do so in the dead of night without receiving any kind of formal survival training beforehand, and something was about to go terribly wrong. I just knew it.
Sure, I hadn’t seen a clinically obese mujahid scratch the back of an uncooperative camel with the butt end of an AK-47 yet, but I wouldn’t be worth a sugar cube lick to a diabetic on his very last Jolly Rancher if I ended up crashing this Wright brothers reject plane of mine. Not when all unidentifiable television cooking shows had led to one enraged state of marketplace insurgency after another.
There were only so many continents that could be represented in a reasonably sized shopping mall food court back in the states, but whose best interests was I really representing right now? Since I couldn’t hijack or catch a quick ride on a million dollar drone headed directly over Palestinian airspace any time soon, I had decided to go the Trojan horse route. The eyewitness accounts of my pending death wouldn’t differ any more than the best theories still out there concerning what had really happened in Troy during one of the greatest mythological wars in Greek history, but where was everybody already?
I was unaware of my current position five klicks away from the Mediterranean Sea. The plane I was flying had been provided to me by a former member of Egypt’s premiere secret intelligence agency. I had taken off from a small privately run airport in Rafah inside a decommissioned German interceptor with every intention of making a return trip, but the fanatical resistance movement I sensed closing in on me from the barren ground below was very real. Chapter seven of my—oh, forget it.
I couldn’t think. I could barely see anything but darkness in front of me, and yet time refused to stand still. This shit was going down, but I had no one to assure me that I was clearly out of my depth. I was all alone with a disassembling PC that was sure to go to sleep before my next live update from the bottom of an empty ocean.
I began my descent over the West Bank, but the radio just wouldn’t stop squawking in my ear. I was surprised it actually worked. I heard a whole bunch of technical aviary nonsense that didn’t keep my attention, just like my new Egyptian friend’s explanation of why his country’s air force was in possession of a German fighter plane capable of exceeding the speed of sound. I had been more interested in if the darn thing worked. So much in fact that I didn’t bother asking him what had really happened to that Russian airliner that went down over Egyptian air space a few years back. Planes continued to fall out of the sky for seemingly no reason every day but certainly not German war planes from the 70s. Was this bird funded by the Russian government or the U.S.? Britain then?
Most of the digital readouts on the dash meant nothing to me, but I had been able to identify most of the controls right away. I had done so in broad daylight under the watchful eye of the same Egyptian ex-spy who had admired my universal uncommonness but not his own disgraceful ability to enable a pathological devil admirer. Certainly not below the same air space UN forces had every right to shoot me out of from their own “It’s not a prototype but it’s certainly outdated” fighting interceptor.
Mostafa Ahman Bakfik had lost a part of himself forever the moment I realized that I had everything I needed on his little private air strip to not fail. I had been so mesmerizing then. What I couldn’t have possibly foreseen then was everything that still stood to complicate my mission for God, not in spite of his greatest detractors.
Now I feverishly looked through my glass canopy for any signs of celebratory might and nothing more. Heat-seeking rockets only visible through the atrocious glare of a refranchised Red Army that still had a chance to blow me out of the sky. I saw none, so I continued my impromptu crash course in excavating memory foam while silently reciting a well-known Torah prayer.
Simon and I had spent countless hours in the air together, but he had all the reason in the world to put off my “how to go about dodging an incoming GTAM in a slightly supersonic warplane” flying lesson. He did talk me through my first botched runway landing in a small engine aircraft during one of our very first dates. That was before he had this great idea while we taxied towards our shared home base to come.
“We can just go swimming next time.”
“I’m okay with that.”
“It’s like flying, but you can’t blame your bad form on the wind.”
Fifteen years later, my first solo flight proved to be a successful one. I had surprised myself, but I wouldn’t breathe any easier once I powered down the plane and stepped out onto solid ground again. Yes, the whole point of this suicide mission of mine was to meet some new friends that would keep me off the grid before dawn for all the right reasons. I was just afraid that they’d appear so suddenly on terror’s most notorious breeding ground west of Jordan that I’d never get a chance to explain myself. Not after they savagely seized my “assets” and took turns giving Bruce Willis’s ghost one final ultimatum…