Any one of them could have been chosen. Thanks to the pale skin of his Scottish mother, Annag, it had been Sayid, better known as ‘Sandy’. He pulled into the car park, turned the ignition off and smiled at his Caucasian reflection in the mirror. No-one would know that his father was Syrian and in this most English of English towns, that was important. Extremely important. He took a deep breath. Then another deep, deep breath. After all, he was about to change history – for all time.
He opened the window and breathed unseasonably warm air. It was late March but the weather was springlike. Adjacent to the car park was a picnic area and beyond that the river. Beneath the picnic tables, ducks waddled lethargically, searching for scraps. Then, the paltry pickings exhausted, they would jump into the river and drift lazily downstream, under the bridge into the car park, to an area where there were tiers of low steps designed for river birds, to sun themselves and wait for bread-laden grandmothers with young children in tow. Sayid’s mind boggled at the thought. Steps designed for ducks! Yes, they probably had their petty disputes with other ducks and river-dwelling creatures but what could they know of his God and the hatred of mankind that could drive a man to do what he, Sayid Hussain, was about to do, to appease him?
How could it have been so easy he wondered? The mission had taken years of planning, although he knew almost nothing of it. Over the past two years, parts had been flown into remote airstrips and brought by small boats to lonely coasts. Then assembled in secret laboratories. Instructions were given in envelopes, personally delivered by anonymous strangers. Infringement of any rule meant blindness, the offender’s eyes gouged out. But as he enjoyed the warm river air and looked about there was no-one. So much for British Secret Services – pah!
He tore open an envelope. Inside was a number, nothing else. He called it. To his surprise an English voice answered. “Who’s that?”
“Where are you?”
“Tesco’s car park in Maltby le Fen.”
“There’s a pocket on the outside of the suitcase. Inside it, there’s a calculator. Write this code!”
Nervously, he scrabbled for a pen.
The man gave a six digit code.
Sayid’s pen stopped working. Sweating profusely, he managed to scrape the code into a road map.
“Repeat the code please.”
He read the engraving, his heart pounding. “400708.”
“At exactly eleven o’clock you type the code into the calculator and press the ‘equals’ symbol. You understand?”
“Yes, I understand. What’ll happen?”
“You know what’ll happen.” The line went dead.
He sat breathing hard. The number was simple to remember. Alhamdulillah! He felt thirsty. Why hadn’t he brought any water? Well, still twenty minutes to go. He went into Tesco and took a bottle of water from a fridge at the customer service desk. A woman in dark blue with blonde hair and huge breasts served him and smiled. “Not going to see the Queen then?”
“No, I’ve got to go to, er … a meeting.”
“Well, it sounds like a lot of trouble anyway. Nearly all the roads are blocked off and the car parks’ll all be full.”
She was talking about Louth, five miles away but close enough! The monarch was visiting St. James church to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the highest parish church spire in Britain. ‘Two birds with one stone’ was the thinking, apparently.
Back at the car Sayid noticed an ancient attendant wandering aimlessly a few cars away. On a bench by the river twenty metres away an old white-haired woman munched on a sandwich. Two schoolgirls were laughing at a picnic table, looking at their phones. All clear!
Better get ready. If it went off a few minutes early, irrespective of his controller’s instructions, what would it matter? He laughed at the irony.
He opened the boot and fished in a pocket of the large, very heavy suitcase. So heavy that the suspension had needed reinforcement.
“Excuse me sir.” The car park attendant appeared at his elbow. “Would you raise your hands please?” Sayid saw the man held a squat black gun.
“There must be some mistake,” Sayid laughed as he began to type the code into the calculator.
Suddenly he found himself looking down on the scene from above. His body lay in a pool of blood by the car boot, half the head blown away. By the river he saw the ‘old white-haired woman’ holding a powerful sniper’s rifle. Close at hand the two ‘schoolgirls’ both held revolvers. He felt no emotion, just a deep peace. Thoughts of the mission evaporated, paradise awaited.
Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories
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