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At Heaven’s Threshold

by Gary Clifton

Part 1 appears
in this issue.


Cozad and Sarah walked down the concourse to the American boarding area. As they passed the ladies’ restroom, yellow police tape strung along stanchions identified a crime scene. Half a dozen uniformed and plainclothes officers stood inside the tape.

A woman in a blue coverall with the logo “Evidence Technician” across her back leaned under the tape and entered the restroom. Cozad recognized one of the uniformed officers manning the barricade tape, stopped, and raised an eyebrow in question.

The cop leaned over the tape and whispered hoarsely, “Woman stabbed in a commode stall deader ’n hell. Heard the Sarge say she was an undercover FBI agent. We’re holding the area for the Feebies to arrive.”

Will, puzzled, looked at Sarah. She clutched his arm. “Dead chick musta been in there when I took a... Hey, I mighta missed the chance to shoot some murdering dork.” Her expression of interest morphed to concern.

“If you saw something, we need to leave word with the sergeant to pass on to the FBI.”

“Will, like I just said, there were a couple, maybe three women. Nothing out of the ordinary. I’ll leave word with this officer. We got a flight to catch.” She pulled a business card from her jacket pocket, handed it to the officer, and ushered Will along.

Cozad and Sarah approached the passengers waiting to board. The attendant called for passengers seated in the rear. Sarah winked at Cozad and walked away. Pale and tired, Cozad waited behind his dark glasses near the end of the line with the crowd assigned seats up front. Boarding was uneventful.

* * *

The Boeing 727 soared to altitude, droning along. Cozad was assigned to an aisle seat immediately behind the first class divider. He slumped wearily in his seat, eyes heavy behind the dark glasses. Sarah was out of his sight somewhere to the rear.

Coach-class attendants started the concession cart in the aisle next to Cozad. He ordered coffee and prepared for a long flight. Juggling his coffee, he stood, patted a pillow the attendant had given him, and used the opportunity to spot the passenger the group supervisor had ordered watched. All appeared calm. The flight was smoothly routine. Passengers dozed, read, chatted. Cozad fought off drowsiness. He leaned out to spot the concession cart for a coffee refill.

Calm was suddenly shattered. A tall, slender, male passenger with shoulder length blonde hair, several seats forward of Cozad in first class, bolted into the aisle. Waving a large knife, he screamed “Death to the Colombian Devils, vile minions of Satan! Death to those who reject the true way.” He slashed at the first class attendant who screamed and fell across the laps of two passengers. The man was not the one the supervisor had singled out. Will snapped out of his funk.

The passenger, his eyes wide with fanaticism, clawed at the cockpit door handle, hacking with the knife, apparently expecting the door to be unlocked. Passengers sat immobilized, terrified. A few screamed.

Cozad dropped his coffee, knocked the lap tray aside and was on the distraught man from behind in two seconds. Wary of the possibility of an accomplice, he took the man to his knees in a standard chokehold, then twisted to face the rear. The passenger, gnashing his teeth frantically, slashed Cozad on the left forearm.

The bloody wound in Cozad’s arm caused him to lose his slippery grip. Lurching away, the man backed into the forward service galley. He lunged desperately at Cozad, chewing, swallowing hard, choking, his expression wrenched into a demonic grin of sheer madness.

His adrenalin at maximum, Cozad smashed the man’s face with a full right forearm. Sound of the jaw breaking was ominously distinct as the passenger went down, twitching on the floor. Cozad knelt and pried the knife from his hand. It was dripping Cozad’s blood.

Weakness flooded him and the rolling movement of the aircraft exaggerated his condition. How did this clown get through the metal detector with a knife large enough to take on an elephant?

Sarah clambered over the concession cart and rushed forward, her .38 in hand. Many passengers screamed or prayed. Several stepped into the aisles, others stood up in place. Sarah barreled through like an NFL fullback. “My God, Will, you’re hurt. How bad...?” Her face was calm, unusually calm.

Cozad knelt to flexi-cuff the man’s wrists behind him. A quick pat down produced only a small pill bottle, which he stuffed into his trousers pocket. He drew the .38 from his boot, stood erect.

The man, face down on the floor, convulsed violently, struggling to look sideways and upward at them. The flexi-cuffs cut deeply into his wrists. White froth gushed from the side of his mouth, then a trace of blood, then more blood began to pool on the deck.

On the floor, the fanatic gasped and stopped breathing. The azure blue eyes, only partly discernable to Cozad from the side, were glassy, ice-like. Pulse rate still pounding, he was surprised his blow had been fatal.

Cozad moved back into the aisle as Sarah stooped over the injured man. “United States Air Marshall. Return to your seats,” he barked. “Anyone who advances will be shot.” He held the .38 high for emphasis. The cabin was suddenly deathly quiet as passengers scrambled to find seats. Every eye was riveted on Will, terror the common denominator.

* * *

Cozad looked back inside the galley. Sarah was bent over the terrorist, out of sight of passengers. From Will’s vantage point, she appeared to be trying to give the man mouth to mouth. She struggled to her feet, her lips smeared with the bloody froth from the dead man. Her expression was no longer quite human.

“You’ve killed Pierre, you heathen swine,” she spat. “I loved him, Will. We were going to enter the Paradise of Glory together. Blessed death and the Kingdom of Paradise at the same instant. You’ve ruined it.” Sobbing, she pushed past Cozad into the open area in front of the cockpit door. “My God, Pierre Baptiste, the master of our flock. Wait for me, my love.”

“Pierre Baptiste, Sarah... The guy’s been in the papers for holding brainwashed people in a cult down in Florida. Good God, Sarah, you’ve been laying up with the screwball who owns all the women he keeps as sex slaves in his little jungle compound? What the hell does he have against a Colombian church group or whoever he meant to kill?”

Her tears dissolved to a mask of twisted hatred. “I was his true love, the Queen Maiden. Master Pierre found out the head of La Cordero de Dio and numerous of his filthy followers had attended a conference of vermin and sacrilege in Dallas. We were to destroy them all as we joined the Everlasting. It was God’s will. Now you’ve...”

“Cordero de Dio? The Lamb of God? They were in the news, too. More cultists. Gotta prison camp of their own in Colombia. Ol’ Pierre was eliminating his cultist enemies. Seems pretty damned stupid, Sarah.”

“You monster. You’ll pay.”

Dismayed and astonished, Cozad stood just outside the galley next to the cabin door. It hadn’t been mouth to mouth. She was kissing the dead man. He regained his position where he could see passengers and Sarah both. Sarah yanked open the jogging suit jacket. The six sticks of dynamite and red wires were vivid. Eternity was four feet away and in full view of all passengers. More screams of terror filled the cabin.

Cozad, still holding the .38, hammer back, centered the sights between Sarah’s eyes, which suddenly faded from bottomless brown to faintly glassy. “Jesus, Sarah, you can’t mean...? All your party talk earlier...?” He pointed his chin at Pierre. “Sarah, this guy is... was a genuine lunatic.”

“Pierre made me see the light, the true submission to God.” She fondled the cross at her neck and glanced at Pierre’s body on the galley floor, still twitching spasmodically in death. “Master Pierre is the chosen one to deliver God’s message,” Sarah said flatly.

“Sarah, does preparation for something like this require smoking the damned linoleum? That love and kisses crap back at the terminal? An act, huh?” With tremendous effort, he managed to increase the trigger pressure. He was about to execute a long and enduring lover. The low impact bullet would not exit the back of her head but would shatter the beautiful face. The thought brought him the urge to vomit. But he had no choice.

“You won’t see tonight, Will.” The venom strangely seemed to lose intensity.

“Sarah, you must have shown up on an FBI wiretap, or maybe in a surveillance photograph. They were following you. You knifed the FBI agent back there in the ladies’ room. You slipped this jerk a knife after we boarded?” He gestured to the floor. “Why...?

She nodded; the grin was evil, but not quite right. Her .38 in her right hand at her side, she partially raised her shaking left hand, reaching for the IED strapped across her belly. The hand faltered, her eyes glazed slightly more.

As her hand fell back to her side, she dropped the .38. Pinkish discharge showed on her lips. Driblets trailed down her chin onto the bomb. A drop of blood appeared in a corner of her mouth, then crimson gushed.

“Sarah, he bit into his pill quicker than you planned. Didn’t give you time to get up here and shoot me in the back of the head. Now you’ve had a taste of the same poison.” Cozad steadied his pistol.

At the unthinkable instant when Cozad knew trigger pressure would blow Sarah’s beautiful features apart, her expression contorted. Spasms shook her body, and her face dropped from his sight pattern. “Pierre in Eternity...” she slurred as she hit the deck like a soggy towel.

Cozad, suddenly aware his back was again partially turned to any other terrorist, stepped over Sarah and knelt beside her, fully facing the passengers. Face up, Sarah was twitching, but not breathing, eyes burning upward in death. Blood intermingled heavily in the froth filling her gaping mouth.

On one knee, he pulled out the pill bottle he’d taken from Pierre. The label read: DANGER - POTASSIUM CYANIDE -Do not take internally. “Dammit, kid, Pierre gave you the kiss of death more than once.” He stuffed the bottle back into his pocket. “And for such an amateur attempt.”

The co-pilot bounded out the cockpit door. “What happened?” he demanded, looking down in horror at the two dead bodies, one of whom he had appeared earlier to be well acquainted with.

“Get back in there and don’t unlock that door again.” Cozad’s eyes were narrow slits of death. “Tell Captain America to make a one-eighty back to Dallas or land this thing on a highway in between if he can find one. Priority Red Six Homeland Security emergency.”

The co-pilot, hesitated in a second of indecision. Priority Red Six seemed to register as he stepped back into pilot territory. The door snapped closed behind him.

Cozad, still kneeling, ran his hand along the ridges of dynamite, tracing wires strapped to Sarah. He pulled a single, electric blasting cap from the bomb and yanked the other end from a small battery pack. The bomb had no secondary detonator.

Cozad stood and stuffed the blasting-capped wire into a trashcan in the galley beside Pierre’s corpse and several feet from Sarah’s body. If the cap detonated, it could not ignite the dynamite strapped around her.

As a precaution against the electric cap being triggered by electronics on the aircraft, he found several pillows in an overhead compartment and packed them down into the trashcan. An accidental detonation of the cap alone would not take down the aircraft, but he was well beyond taking chances.

“Everyone remain in your seat,” he shouted down the passenger aisle. Suddenly, the airplane made a full reverse turn, tossing him against a wall. The pilots were doing as ordered.

Instantly, he felt more tired than he could ever recall. He sat heavily on the rear-facing seat against the cockpit wall, still holding the .38. Blood dripped from his left forearm onto the floor.

He had saved the lives of 155 passengers, some of whom were apparently as nuts as Pierre, plus several pretty flight attendants, and some guys in nice pilot suits. But in the gain, he had lost a corner of his soul. Sarah lay dead and grotesque at his feet. A trembling flight attendant stepped warily over Sarah’s body and held out a towel. Cozad wrapped it around is arm and motioned her away.

“My God, Sarah. My God...” The flood of tears surprised and overwhelmed him. Like an actor on stage, he was crying in full view of an airplane load of stunned, silent people. He looked up. What the hell difference did it make? What the hell difference did anything make?

He muttered softly, “Paradise, Sarah? Great God, did you take time to study up on the rules of admission? You and this idiot Pierre have achieved eternity all right. I’d just like to see the paperwork in the department they assign you to.”

Copyright © 2015 by Gary Clifton

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