My flight whisked through the heavens as we made our way around the Florida panhandle en route to Dallas. We'd encountered some mild turbulence during our initial ascent but as soon as we cleared thirty thousand feet everything smoothed out and by the time the captain gave the all clear for cabin movement I had my baseball cap pulled low and was on my way to dream land.
I was awakened by one the few sounds that I'd rather not hear on an aircraft: raised voices. My seat was in the very rear of the plane so the audio portion of my journey had pretty much just been the continuous humming of the large turbine engines. Even the captain's pre takeoff instructions had been reduced to a series of monotone warbles so for me to hear the conversation of passengers sitting seven rows in front of me was alarming. The middle-aged blonde woman sitting to my left had a copy of Sky Mall magazine open but her attention had been diverted as well. We gave each other a mutual look of concern. Even the obnoxious, young Brazilian couple sitting directly in front of us took a break from their cross-country make out session to listen to the commotion.
The men responsible for my pre-mature awakening appeared to be arguing over money. There were three seats in their row and they were next to each other in the two seats nearest to the aisle. The younger of the two, a slim fellow with heavily gelled hair in his late twenties, was talking the loudest and making aggressive gestures towards his associate. A young coed who did not appear to be affiliated with the men occupied the window seat in their row. She put her earphones in and stared out the window in a desperate and futile attempt to tune them out.
"I don't care about any of those guys, Danny!" the younger one said. He tossed out a few choice expletives. "You had no right to do that. That was my money too! What about all of the work that I did?!"
The tension level between the two rose quickly and I could see nearby passengers squirming in discomfort. Danny did his best to close Pandora's box. "Hey man, you need to relax. We're good, Stretch. You're gonna be okay. Relax, man. Relax!"
"Relax?!" Stretch fired back, cursing wildly at Danny. "You dont tell me to relax. You just tell me how you're gonna get my money back!"
As their bickering turned to shouting, I could see that Stretch was under the influence of something. His tired eyes were a deep red and staying still in his chair was becoming a chore. He stood up, inadvertently shoving the head of the woman sitting in front of him.
"So what are we gonna do, Danny? I need answers now!"
"Are you crazy?! Sit down, dummy!"
The woman sitting in front of Stretch turned angrily. "You two need to calm down!"
Stretch swore at her and went back to berating Danny.
The flight attendant, a slight woman with a not-so-slight, bouffant hairstyle, cleared her throat in order to make her presence known. She had been quietly inching towards the men from the rear of the plane in hopes that they would resolve their conflict. Things were going in quite the opposite direction.
"Sir, I'm going to need for you to take your seat now. If there's a problem, I can find you another seat."
"Oh there's no problem, ma'am!" Danny said, springing up and grabbing the sleeve of Stretch's shirt. "Sit down, man!"
"The hell with that!" Stretch yelled. He shoved Danny. "Don't touch me!"
Danny drifted backwards, bumped his head on the overhead compartment, and collapsed on the coed in their row. Her loud shriek turned almost every head on the plane. There was a gentleman sitting directly across the walkway aisle from me. We locked eyes and were instantly in silent agreement that we would need to restrain Stretch if his erratic behavior continued. My grip on the seat in front of me tightened.
The flight attendant spoke in a firm voice. "Alright now, sir, I'm going to ask you to please take your seat. Right now."
Stretch swore at her and pulled a six-inch, Phillips head screwdriver from the thigh pocket of his cargo shorts. He moved into the walkway and started waving it at her in a menacing fashion. There were several gasps that, collectively, drowned out Stretch's incoherent mumbling. He was sweating profusely.
The gentleman across from me stood up. The flight attendant was situated between Stretch and us so we would have to pull her out of the way in order to rush him. Beyond her I could see the second flight attendant moving quickly towards the front of the cabin. As she passed concerned passengers, she encouraged them to remain in their seats.
The flight attendant nearest me stood resolute.
"Sir, please put that down immediately. You will be restrained and arrested if you continue. Now please drop that to the ground and return to your seat."
"The hell I will," Stretch said, in a noticeably calmer tone. He was empowered by his weapon and with power came a twisted confidence. He pointed at Danny who was gathering himself from the fall. "That sell out was supposed to be my partner. He did something very stupid and now he ain't moving or I ain't moving or sitting or nothing until he tells me how he's gonna get every bit of my money back!"
The flight attendant extended her palm and took a step forward. Stretch lunged at her with the screwdriver. She instinctively moved her arm to shield herself from his thrust and the screwdriver connected with her hand. She cried out in agony.
I hopped out of my chair, grabbed her, and pulled her back as my neighbor positioned himself between the smiling Stretch and us. She held her hand firmly against her body and told me that she was alright but I could see that there was bleeding.
Stretch pointed at us and spoke. "I told you. I ain't goin' nowhere until I get my money. Now yall need to just go back to your seats."
The woman who had been sitting in front of Stretch, quietly slid out of her seat and into the walkway. She gave my neighbor and I an affirmative nod as she tiptoed towards Stretch.
"Alright man, listen!" I said loudly, still cradling the flight attendant. "I've got your damn money! He gave it to me. All of it!"
A momentary look of confusion filled Stretch's face as he processed my words. He searched my eyes for recognition.
"Who the hell are-"
His sentence was interrupted by the sharp cracking sound of a tablet computer being smashed against the back of his skull. The force of the blow wretched the screwdriver from his hand and propelled him forward into the arms of the man who had been sitting across from me. My neighbor had at least a fifty-pound weight advantage on Stretch and had no problem holding him as he writhed in pain. The second flight attendant quickly rushed in with several plastic hand ties and, with the aide of another passenger, quickly fastened them around Stretch's wrists. An unexpected silence washed over us all as we considered the gravity of what had just happened. When the somber air of uncertainty was lifted, so too went the silence and there was only the roar of cheering throughout the cabin.
We touched down for a few hours at a small airport in Crestview, Florida to unload the unruly passengers. The authorities had been called and were waiting on the tarmac to take them into custody. A few of us were allowed off of the plane for medical examinations, police statements, and to do interviews with a local news affiliate.
The woman who sacrificed her tablet computer was named Victoria. After an hour of testifying and posing for pictures, she sat alone on a concrete barrier sipping a cup of coffee. The morning's frenzy had dissipated and we were all waiting for the slow wheels of protocol to turn. I walked over to her.
"I don't appreciate you stealing my glory, today."
She looked up at me with a tired but inviting smile. "Excuse me?"
I took a seat on the barrier next to her. "Back in the air... I was just about to karate chop that scum bag and save the day but you stole my moment. You stole my glory. That wasn't fair."
Victoria laughed while pulling back a stray strand of dark brown hair. "Oh, really now? I'm sorry but from where I was sitting it looked like you were cowardly hiding behind the stewardess! I felt like I had to do something."
"Nice," I said, laughing. "You holding up alright? It's been quite a day so far."
"Yeah, I'm good. Can you believe this? I hear about crazy stuff happening on flights but who ever figures..." She let her sentence dissipate into the cool midday air.
"It's unbelievable. Sorry about your tablet. I'd probably be pissed if I suddenly had to smash mine over some jerk's head."
Victoria took a sip of her coffee. "Eh, no biggie. It was a company computer. They've probably already got a new one being FedEx'd right now. They don't care about how many crimes I stop. They just want to see a seven percent earning's increase. How's the stewardess?"
"She's good. Bandaged up and ready to get back in the air. You were both pretty brave up there. Thanks. Two strong women thwarting a terrorist plot! It gave me goose bumps."
"You're welcome," she giggled. I glanced down at her empty ring finger and decided to roll the dice.
"In all seriousness, you really were pretty remarkable up there. Takes guts to do something like that. I can't even begin to imagine how busy you're going to be in Dallas, especially with all of this now... but if you're ever free, I'd love to go get a cup of coffee or something to eat or something with you." I immediately gave myself a mental kick for throwing out the extra "or something".
Victoria raised an eyebrow and looked into my eyes. "Hmmmm. I don't know. I saw the way the stewardess was holding on to you. She looked pretty comfy in your arms. You sure she'd be okay with you hanging out with me?"
"She'll be fine. I told her that I only date famous and soon to be famous heroes."
"Heroines," she corrected.
Two days after that Victoria and I met up in a small lounge a few blocks away from her hotel. We spent three hours together discussing our lives, her encounters with the associated press, and proper techniques for smashing computers over the heads of disorderly flight passengers. The evening was later officially classified as our second date and approximately three years after our first airborne encounter I asked her to marry me.