The Christmas Gift
Adie was in no hurry. He watched the human shoals swimming outside the window of the cafe. Had he been 'made'? It scarcely seemed to matter now. He gazed again at the strangers milling around in the London dusk -each with their own interior worlds pulsing away inside the few hundred cubic centimetres of their cranial cavities. Most were shopping, carrying the over-priced yuletide artefacts upon which so much of this society's estimation of social worth seemed to be based. Would any of these individuals really miss their lives? He preferred not to think of that right now.
A lady, alone, well-groomed and appealingly self-possessed smiled quizzically across at him from a chair some feet away. He watched her smile slowly fade like a searchlight from which the power source had been disconnected. Once, he might have been interested -played the courtship game of introduction, small-talk and selective disclosure. The lady seemed to be about his own age. Once, he might have thought that she was attractive. But it was late now for that sort of nonsense. Too late by far.
Adie wondered idly what had aroused her interest in him. He'd been staring out of the cafe's windows, searching the faces in the crowd, looking for identifying features which he might have glimpsed earlier in the day: these things were (in the present circumstances) important. Turning to scan the comfortable interior of the expensive, well-situated cafe, he'd made eye-contact with her. Other women had, in the past, told him that he had 'hypnotic' eyes; bright, humerous and alive. Adie didn't think that he was otherwise, or in any other way, especially prepossessing. He slowly picked his nose then quite ostentatiously examined his fingernails before glancing again covertly at the lady. She was already reaching for her gloves against the winter cold and preparing to leave. Adie smiled inwardly. This was his gift to her, an anonymous but pleasing stranger. His last christmas gift.
A waiter, neatly attired but with a slight squint, asked him if he required anything further. His coffee lay, already cold, on the table in front of him. He shook his head in polite dismissal and watched, half regretfully, as the woman left. She didn't look again in his direction but walked, gracefully and with a kind of brittle determination, for the door. Adie didn't rise to assist her. It was two or three minutes from here to the tube. Five more minutes then before completion of this final, self-appointed task.
Adie felt once more for the large suitcase besides his feet and under the table. It was exactly where he had placed it when he had first sat down. It contained one final, despairing gesture towards the 'Great Satan' whose luxurious palace was situated so close to here. Adie would dearly have loved to have penetrated even further into the dragon's den -but he knew that security factors militated against the extra risk. He could only speculate as to what tracking devices, sniffer dogs, plain-clothed, armed-guards surrounded the Houses of Parliament. This Satan could afford to protect itself.
Adie was a well-educated man. He was familiar with the arguments of theoreticians such as Hobbes and John Milton on the subject of Tyranicide. Ultimately it had been a pragmatic choice, one informed by personal circumstances (a messy divorce and the prospect of inexorable decline into an illness for which the doctors had assigned multi-syllabic terminology, but no cure). Adie knew that he couldn't 'front up' to that, so therefore the only choices left to him were choices of (as the Americans might have put it) what 'exit strategy' he might select.
Adie himself had no religion, looked on it all as the purest self-deception -harmless enough on a personal level but historically pernicious. One of his oldest friends, known since before university, had had no such scepticism. Revelation of Adie's dilemma presented him with an obvious resolution: Adie would be 'The Movement's means to strike a great 'Hammer blow' against the hated oppressors, the squalid lackeys of a cowboy-state which was prosecuting one of the world's most infamous war-crimes. 'Let them see,' Adie's friend had concluded (with an oratorical flourish) 'let the crusaders know that they cannot order the deaths of innocent women and children with impunity...let them understand that we can bring an equal horror into their citadels...let them recognise that there can be no hiding place for child-murderers from the just reckoning of one honest man'.
And so it had come to pass and with near-bewildering celerity. Adie understood all too little of the higher physics of what was inside the suitcase with which he travelled. He knew only what he had been told by the heavily-bearded courier who'd delivered the device to his hotel room this very morning. That the case contained approximately thirty pounds of semtex, with a roughly equal weight of radioactive material culled from the innards of an old hospital x-ray machine. That it was a so-called 'dirty bomb' which (if detonated correctly) would irradiate enough of a city to render it uninhabitable for half-a-century.
Adie had refused quite steadfastly to make any kind of video-taped 'Martyr's Farewell' for propaganda purposes. He had gone on to make it clear that he had nothing but the profoundest reservations both for his friend's protestations of devoutness and for the dubious motivation behind his friend's organisation. He was a Briton by birth, imbued with whatever it is that the experience of forty-plus years of slow-drip national degradation leaves you. Inured from the self-serving lies of politicians from all shades of the British political spectrum: men with no principles and no honour. He recognised within himself the great desire to 'make a difference'. He was just sorry for the innocent bystanders of this rather tawdry show of defiance which he was about to make.
He rose, a little unsteadily, to his feet, paid his bill and -with a gesture which seemed quaint even as he made it- left a sizeable tip. He pulled the suitcase through the door of the cafe, helpfully held open by the squinting waiter. My god, but the suitcase was heavy! His breathing was laboured now with the draining of what little remaining strength his wasting illness had left him. Adie had been told that for the weapon to have maximum effect it had to be activated in as open a space as possible, as close as was practicable to the palace of Westminster. He came panting to a stop and lowered his eyes to the watch at his wrist. Three minutes since he left the cafe, seven since the lady's departure. he hoped she was on the underground, speeding away from here. The devil alone knew how many surveillance cameras were even at this moment recording his every movement. He stood stock still, one eye watering from the chilly breeze.
He watched a uniformed policeman ambling along in his direction with all the unhurried, practiced arrogance of that profession. Slowly, and with infinite care, Adie's hand reached towards the firing mechanism.
Kevin Saving © 2008