There were only fifteen joining passengers for the British Airways flight at Victoria Airport on the island of Mahé in the oceanic republic of the Seychelles.
Two couples formed a tight group as they waited their turn for departure formalities. They were all young, all deeply tanned and they seemed still carefree and relaxed by their holiday in that island paradise. However, one of them made her three companions seem insignificant by the sheer splendour of her physical presence.
She was a tall girl, with long limbs and her head set on a proud, shapely neck. Her thick, sun-gilded blonde hair was twisted into a braid and coiled high on top of her head, and the sun had touched her with gold and brought out the bloom of youth and health upon her skin.
As she moved with the undulating grace of one of the big predatory cats, bare feet thrust into open sandals, so the big pointed breasts joggled tautly under the thin cotton of her tee-shirt and the tight round buttocks strained the faded denim of her hacked-off shorts.
Across the front of her tee-shirt was blazoned the legend ‘I AM A LOVE NUT’ and below it was drawn the suggestive outline of a coco-de-mer.
She smiled brilliantly at the dark-skinned Seychellois immigration officer as she slid the green United States passport with its golden eagle across the desk to him, but when she turned to her male companion she spoke in quick fluent German. She retrieved her passport and led the others through into the security area.
Again she smiled at the two members of the Seychelles Police Force who were in charge of the weapons search, and she swung the net carry bag off her shoulder.
‘You want to check these?’ she asked, and they all laughed. The bag contained two huge coco-de-mer; the grotesque fruit, each twice the size of a human head, were the most popular souvenirs of the Islands. Each of her three companions carried similar trophies in net bags, and the police officer ignored such familiar objects and instead ran his metal detector in a perfunctory manner over the canvas flight bags which made up the rest of their hand luggage. It buzzed harshly on one bag and the boy who carried it shamefacedly produced a small Nikkormat camera. More laughter and then the police officer waved the group through into the final Departure Lounge.
It was already crowded with transit passengers who had boarded at Mauritius, and beyond the lounge windows the huge Boeing 747 Jumbo squatted on the tarmac, lit harshly by floodlights as the refuelling tenders fussed about her.
There were no free seats in the lounge and the group of four formed a standing circle under one of the big revolving punkah fans, for the night was close and humid – and the mass of humanity in the closed room sullied the air with tobacco smoke and the smell of hot bodies.
The blonde girl led the gay chatter and sudden bursts of laughter, standing inches above her two male companions and a full head above the other girl, so that they were a focus of attention for the hundreds of other passengers. Their manner had changed subtly since they entered the lounge; there was a sense of relief as though a serious obstacle had been negotiated, and an almost feverish excitement in the timbre of their laughter. They were never still, shifting restlessly from foot to foot, hands fiddling with hair or clothing.
Although they were clearly a closed group, quarantined by an almost conspiratorial air of camaraderie, one of the transit passengers left his wife sitting and stood up from his seat across the lounge.
‘Say, do you speak English?’ he asked, as he approached the group.
He was a heavy man in his middle fifties with a thick thatch of steel-grey hair, dark horn-rimmed spectacles, and the easy confident manner of success and wealth.
Reluctantly the group opened for him, and it was the tall blonde girl who answered, as if by right.
‘Sure, I’m American also.’
‘No kidding?’ The man chuckled. ‘Well, what do you know.’ And he was studying her with open admiration. ‘I just wanted to know what those things are.’ He pointed to the net bag of nuts that lay at her feet.
‘They are coco-de-mer,’ the blonde answered.
‘Oh yeah, I’ve heard of them.’
‘They call them “love nuts”,’ the girl went on, stooping to open the heavy bag at her feet. ‘And you can see why.’ She displayed one of the fruit for him.
The double globes were joined in an exact replica of a pair of human buttocks.
‘Back end.’ She smiled, and her teeth were so white they appeared as translucent as fine bone china.
‘Front end.’ She turned the nut, and offered for his inspection the perfect mons veneris complete with a feminine gash and a tuft of coarse curls, and now it was clear she was flirting and teasing; she altered her stance, thrusting her hips forward slightly, and the man glanced down involuntarily at her own plump mons beneath the tight blue denim, its deep triangle bisected by the fold of material which had rucked up into the cleft.
He flushed slightly and his lips parted with a small involuntary intake of breath.
‘The male tree has a stamen as thick and as long as your arm.’ She widened her eyes to the size and colour of blue pansies, and across the lounge the man’s wife stood up and came towards them, warned by some feminine instinct. She was much younger than her husband and very heavy and awkward with child.
‘The Seychellois will tell you that in the full moon the male pulls up its roots and walks around to mate with the females–’
‘As long and as thick as your arm–’ smiled the pretty little dark-haired girl beside her, ‘ – wow!’ She was also teasing now, and both girls dropped their gaze deliberately down the front of the man’s body. He squirmed slightly, and the two young men who flanked him grinned at his discomfort.
His wife reached him and tugged at his arm. There was a red angry rash of prickly heat on her throat and little beads of perspiration across her upper lip, like transparent blisters.
‘Harry, I’m not feeling well,’ she whined softly.
‘I’ve got to go now,’ he mumbled with relief, his poise and confidence shaken, and he took his wife’s arm and led her away.
‘Did you recognize him?’ asked the dark-haired girl in German, still smiling, her voice pitched very low.
‘Harold McKevitt,’ the blonde replied softly in the same language. ‘Neurosurgeon from Forth Worth. He read the closing paper to the convention on Saturday morning.’ She explained. ‘Big fish – very big fish,’ and like a cat she ran the pink tip of her tongue across her lips.
Of the four hundred and one passengers in the final Departure Lounge that Monday evening three hundred and sixty were surgeons, or their wives. The surgeons, including some of the most eminent in the world of medicine, had come from Europe and England and the United States, from Japan and South America and Asia, for the convention that had ended twenty-four hours previously on the island of Mauritius, five hundred miles to the south of Mahé island. This was one of the first flights out since then and it had been fully booked ever since the convention had been convoked.
‘British Airways announces the departure of Flight BA070 for Nairobi and London; will transit passengers please board now through the main gate.’ The announcement was in the soft singsong of the Creole accent, and there was a massed movement towards the exit.
‘Victoria Control this is Speedbird Zero Seven Zero request push back and start clearance.’ ‘Zero Seven Zero you are cleared to start and taxi to holding point for runway Zero One.’ ‘Please copy amendment to our flight plan for Nairobi. Number of Pax aboard should be 401. We have a full house.’ ‘Roger, Speedbird, your flight plan is amended.’
The gigantic aircraft was still in its nose-high climb configuration and the seat belt and no-smoking lights burned brightly down the length of the first-class cabin. The blonde girl and her companion sat side by side in the roomy seats 1a and 1b directly behind the forward bulkhead that partitioned off the command area and the first-class galley. The seats that the young couple occupied had been reserved many months previously.
The blonde nodded to her companion and he leaned forward to screen her from the passengers across the aisle while she slipped one of the coco-de-mer from its net bag and held it in her lap.
Through its natural division the nut had been carefully sawn into two sections to allow removal of the milk and the white flesh, then the two sections had been glued together again just as neatly. The joint was only apparent after close inspection.
The girl inserted a small metal instrument into the joint and twisted it sharply, and with a soft click the two sections fell apart like an Easter egg.
In the nests formed by the double husk of the shells, padded with strips of plastic foam, were two smooth, grey, egg-like objects – each the size of a baseball.
They were grenades of East German manufacture, with the Warsaw Pact command designation MK IV(C). The outer layer of each grenade was of armoured plastic, of the type used in landmines to prevent discovery by electronic metal detectors. The yellow stripe around each grenade indicated that it was not a fragmentation type, but was designed for high impact concussion.
The blonde girl took a grenade in her left hand, unlatched her lap belt and slipped quietly from her seat. The other passengers paid her only passing interest as she ducked through the curtains into the galley area. However, the purser and the two stewardesses, still strapped into their fold-down seats, looked up sharply as she entered the service area.
‘I’m sorry, madam, but I must ask you to return to your seat until the captain extinguishes the seat-belt lights.’
The blonde girl held up her left hand and showed him the shiny grey egg.
‘This is a special grenade, designed for killing the occupants of a battle tank,’ she said quietly. ‘It could blow the fuselage of this aircraft open like a paper bag or kill by concussion any human being within fifty yards.’
She watched their faces, saw the fear bloom like an evil flower.
‘It is fused to explode three seconds after it leaves my hand.’ She paused again, and her eyes glittered with excitement and her breath was quick and shallow.
‘You–’ she selected the purser, ‘ – take me to the flight deck; you others stay where you are. Do nothing, say nothing.’
When she ducked into the tiny cockpit, hardly large enough to contain the members of the flight crew and its massed banks of instruments and electronic equipment, all three men turned to look back at her in mild surprise – and she lifted her hand and showed them what she carried.
They understood instantly.
‘I am taking command of this aircraft,’ she said, and then, to the flight engineer, ‘Switch off all communications equipment.’