The sunlight cuts through the window like a shaft of promise into this unkempt room.
There are three of them sitting on the naked wooden floor of the apartment, on the dust and splinters, staring up at me with wide eyes. I can’t tell whether it is fear in their expressions or defiance. They are definitely angry, but as long as I hold the gun they know they are powerless.
A rough and durable chord secures their wrists and ankles. It is used for tying down heavy loads on the back of trucks and trailers; my father would use it when driving between the towns with his roofing materials. But that’s all we need say about him. I tied it tightly in several knots so that it will burn and break the skin with every struggle, keeping them in place. I don’t want them to get any ideas about making a break for it.
From the window I can see the crowds gathering, against their better judgement. It is a crisp morning, the cool winter sky devoid of even the slightest smudge, just a sprawling sheet of pale blue that curves incomprehensibly at the furthest point of the horizon. It looks within reach, the lure of freedom that isn’t an option to any of us right now. The sound of sirens echo through the city in layers. There are many, each varying in volume and pitch, relative to their distance.
A group of police officers have already arrived. There is an ambulance and a fire truck too, which is very perceptive. Barriers have been erected and one officer is marking a line with fluorescent tape while another makes there’s nothing to see here type sounds, making gestures at the crowd.
It has been a short while since I made the phone call. I am calmer now than when I first arrived, more in control. But I’m still angry, I’m still hurt.
The roller shade is pulled down halfway to obscure the view inside the room. Pretty soon there will be snipers in the windows of the buildings across the street. This building has been evacuated. Helicopters will be slicing up the sky and troops of SWAT scurrying up the stairwells, halting and pressing forward in tight choreography, rapidly closing in. Hopefully my part will be over by then, hopefully they will understand.
As the crowd grows larger still – curious faces staring up, hands shielding eyes from the glare of the winter sun – I step away from the window and pull the shade down fully, suffocating the light in the room, setting the appropriate mood. I sit on the floor opposite the hostages, leaning against the wall. Our eyes meet momentarily, and then they look away. They look at one another, then down at the floor.
They are afraid still, but they are angry too. I tried to win their trust, their confidence, but things got out of hand. The older man, the one with the salt and pepper hair and the blood stained suit steals a glance at the corner of the room and then looks back at the floor. He looks emotional. I hit him with the butt of the gun during the struggle. He was lucky. I could have shot him like I did with the other guy.
I look at the body then back at the hostages.
My phone starts to ring.
Times were not always this desperate. Once there was order, and direction. Those were times of sanity, not like now. Then there was the promise of possibility, ripe and intoxicating, days characterised by objectivity and rewards. Once, before these threads unravelled, I was in love and I was given love in return. Not like now, where hatred breeds on every street.
And not like before.
I managed to save myself from a life of delinquency. I was fortunate to stumble into the arms of a great teacher; a man of compassion and foresight who had a vision for the world that he wanted to deliver through his people. People who shared his passion and who committed themselves to that one idea he did, one fundamental cause for the future of human existence. And they call him terrorist! He said there was a place for me in the world, and that I could make a difference…if I wanted to.
‘The will to do it is far more valuable than the ability,’ he told me over food and red wine. ‘The skills can be taught, you can’t teach someone to be passionate.’
‘What if I’m not as passionate as you need me to be?’ My modesty was a poor mask for my self doubt. I had always been defeatist, but also conscious of how my failings had the potential for disappointment. I was giving my new teacher an opportunity to retract his offer.
‘You are,’ he answered. ‘I have seen your passion Blake; I can see it every time you look my way, every time you look around this room. You’re so displaced, so at odds with everyone else. That is because you cannot stand to live an apathetic life, around listless drones who believe in nothing, who have no passion. You and me, we share that sentiment.’
‘Thank you for saying so,’
‘Don’t thank me…at least not yet’
‘So, what is it you need me to do?’
He looked up from his plate and smiled. Teacher was a handsome man. He was in his early sixties but he had lost none of the vitality of his youth. His hair had greyed but was as thick as it had ever been, his clothes were expensive and his body retained all its strength and stature. Later, when the vision he preached to us all became blurred and his cause left his followers stranded, he appeared on the news channels and in the papers, a changed man. People called him ‘the devil’ and pelted him with missiles from the crowd.
‘I need you to be patient,’ he answered.
I try to keep my voice calm, controlled.
‘Blake?’ a woman asks
‘Yes, this is Blake,’ I answer
The crowd outside sound like a distant swell of waves; a siren squawks briefly and a raw, peevish diesel engine trawls through the mess. The sun glimmers off the rooftops and windows, but my breath turns to vapour in the air.
There is activity in the sky. Men descending ropes, police in helicopters and the press. I feel pleased by the turnout; all these people convening to confront a threat they aren’t totally clear on. Their bravery is commendable, but their curiosity sickening.
‘Ok Blake, lets talk’
‘We have nothing to talk about,’ I say
‘Sure we do…let’s talk about what you want’
‘What I want?’
‘There is nothing I want, thank you for your concern.’
The woman on the line has a soothing voice; she uses it to dissipate the tension. I see her in her forties, blonde hair and a slim body religiously fashioned, wrapped inside a smart trouser suit. She is a career woman. She is fighting along on her feminist trip, still mourning the death of Toni Carabillo or some such idol for the cause, trying to make it in a cruel job, confronting all kinds of no-place-for-a-lady jobs and turning them out with marked efficiency. She is the best at what she does because she is passionate about it. I respect that.
‘You must want something Blake,’ she presses
‘Everybody wants something, right?’ I answer
‘What do you want Miss..?’
‘Taylor, you can call me Taylor’
‘Ok. What do you want Miss Taylor?’
‘I want everyone to walk out of this mess alive Blake. That means you too. Lets not do anything rash, or anything we’re going to regret.’
‘No regrets,’ I say humourlessly
I feel for her and the job she has to do. It can’t be pleasant after all. Her sincerity, however manufactured for this purpose, is touching, and I can’t help but play along.
‘Ok, I want Teacher released from prison. I want him to be a free man, which means all charges are dropped.’
There is something in it, but I can’t tell what.
‘Teacher?’ Miss Taylor asks dubiously, as if he no longer exists.
What am I missing?
The hostage with the salt and pepper hair looks up at me. He is frowning, a confused expression, the same one I am picturing on Miss Taylor’s face. The other two are cowering, still too afraid of the bloody corpse in the corner of the room. But he knows something – that much is clear – and I meet his gaze.
‘That’s right,’ I say, ‘I want him released.’
‘Is this a problem for you?’ I spit aggressively
‘I…um…don’t know Blake, you are asking a lot.’
I smile at her answer and feel like sharing it with the group. You know, your lives collectively aren’t worth that of one prisoner who everyone calls terrorist, who everyone calls devil. How does that make you guys feel?
But I don’t share it; instead I continue to look at the salt and pepper hostage who is now shaking his head hopelessly. He is muttering something to himself.
‘Call me back soon,’ I say to Miss Taylor and throw the phone down.
Standing, I move toward the hostages, using the wall to keep me away from the window. I don’t want things to go awry, but I need to get close, I need to get right in his face. I need to know what he keeps saying.
Honestly, I’m worried. I can sense that they know something I don’t and I can feel the frustration rising. I don’t like it. It robs me of my control. The hostage has realised something and I am suddenly very interested in his candour.
I point the gun at him and I ask ‘what? What are you saying?’
He looks up at me, that earlier defiance has returned to his eyes, I can see it despite the murkiness of the room.
‘You’re so stupid,’ he says but I don’t think I hear him right
‘I said you’re so fucking stupid!’
‘WHAT?’ I roar, jamming the gun against his forehead. The others whimper with fear.
‘Your Teacher’ he says
‘What about him?’
‘Don’t you watch the news?’ He is sobbing now, the gun boring into his sweaty flesh.
‘You can’t get him released because he is…’
‘No,’ I say, refuting what salt and pepper says
‘Yes! Yes you psycho…he’s fucking dead!’
It was during my years of unruly pettiness and small-time transgressions that Teacher made real the dream he had been having for nigh a decade. He was just turning fifty, shedding the skin of his western identity, tearing off the business suit and using his vast accumulated funds for a better purpose.
He severed ties with his wife, who put up a brief fight for a share in his wealth before leaving a note and running away. She wasn’t heard from again and it was probably for the best. He sold his houses and his cars, his ornaments and furniture and began travelling the world, absorbing ideas and themes, collating a list of problems that would need to be addressed when the right time came. He was crafting his vision and he had recruited the help of a man named Simeon.
They were not delusional, but practical. Teacher and Simeon wrote up the manifesto not from a megalomaniacal standpoint, but from a gradual one. They were going to pull it off in stages and each important step along the way would need to be meticulously safeguarded and executed subversively, so that when the full overthrow took place, nobody would have planned for the disruption, because nobody would have seen it coming.
Simeon was unassuming; a small well-dressed man with a professorial look. He had a greying beard that clung, perfectly trimmed, to his plump face and he wore horn-rimmed glasses with tortoiseshell arms.
The man was younger than Teacher and less passionate. If it wasn’t for the money Teacher was handing over Simeon wouldn’t have committed himself to the project. He shared the vision, and he believed that it was what the world needed, but by nature he wasn’t an anarchist or rebel and never had been.
When I arrived on the scene, hand picked for my openness to new ideas and for my willingness to do, I met Simeon and talked with him. I was always very good at gaining the trust of other people and it didn’t take long for him to open up to me. By this time Simeon had been working for Teacher for nearly twelve years, dolefully accepting the tasks and drawing up the plans, hiding his vocation from his wife and family who he loved dearly; too dearly for this kind of work.
‘At some point, it has to stop,’ he said one night, drunk on wine and an increased dosage of anti-depressant pills. ‘I can’t go on like this, pandering to a cause that was born too late in life.’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked him, but he wasn’t paying attention to me, not really.
‘Each time he comes up with a new idea…I don’t know…It’s not going to last much longer anyway.’
‘Simeon, what are you saying?’
‘Poor Angelica, my devoted wife…you know I’ve been lying to her from the start. She thinks I’m researching a software programme for government use. She is going to be so betrayed.’
He got up and ambled away to the bar in our private quarters and poured more wine. He pulled a box from his pocket and threw two more Paroxetine down his throat then drained half the glass of merlot.
When he returned I looked at him in a different way. He was sobbing quietly to himself and I was unnerved. What did this mean? Simeon seemed so unhappy, so at odds with the world he had immersed himself in for years, the world that had remunerated him very handsomely for his input. He spoke of betrayal, but surely his wife would understand when the time came; if she didn’t, then she was not the woman he truly needed. I thought then that he should have more faith in Teacher, more faith his cause.
‘Don’t worry Simeon; it won’t be very long before we make a stand. And then you will see that it was all worth while. Hell, you’ll be treated like a king. One of the architects of the new world, praised and revered. Think about it’
He only looked at me through teary eyes, then got up and walked away.
By the time Miss Taylor calls back I’m near-hysterical, pacing up and down the room with total disregard for the window and the marksmen who are poised and ready somewhere beyond it. Salt-and-pepper is whimpering, desperate to nurse the throbbing pain in his cranium where I pistol-whipped him for his foul and cruel mouth. I called him a liar but the other two backed his story up, and all I can think about now, the only image burned on the back of mental fucking retina is Teacher on a cold mortuary slab, his face a contorted picture of pain and horror as he died slowly of the pain in his stomach.
I don’t want to believe it because of what it means for me. My rash action (they had only ever been rash, an antidote to the slow, fastidiously crafted pace of the plan before my arrival) has now put me in a very vulnerable position. Not only me, but the rest of my hostages, the ones I haven’t already murdered. In very simple terms, I’m fucked.
Teacher, dead, killed by his own best friend it would seem. Killed by a man he had kept for over twelve years, a man who had become rich off his contributions.
I bet they didn’t even try to save him.
‘Do you think I’m a fucking fool?’ I scream down the phone
‘No Blake,’ she offers, ‘calm down’
‘No! Fuck you! You were going to string me along, play on my ignorance, then pick me off when I was most vulnerable.’
‘No Blake, that’s not it’
‘LIAR!’ I scream and squeeze off a round, firing it into the ceiling. As the dust and clumps of broken plaster fall I feel the tension change. The hostages squeal and cower.
A new idea comes to mind.
‘Don’t do anything stupid Blake,’ Miss Taylor blurts with panic, losing the control she built her performance on.
I stopped, allowing things to settle, breathing hard into the receiver. ‘You brought this on yourself,’ I say calmly and fire two more shots, neither followed by cries or whimpers.
Simeon broke in his hotel room and with his sanity went years of hard work and ingenious planning. With his sanity went the livelihoods of over five-hundred men, the first batch of soldiers to bring about the better change. And with his sanity, went the only real hope the world had left for a pure and organic future that didn’t breed violence or hate. Simeon took a gun and shot Teacher on the steps of a court house in full public view, then he disappeared. He told his wife to wait for him, but she didn’t know why. He would return to her…or at least, he would return.
As the SWAT guys break into the room with their guns out before them they see one hostage lying in a bloody heap in the corner of the room. There are three more staring intently at their saviours, unhurt save for a few cuts and bruises and the mental ordeal, their hands tied with rope and their mouths covered with tape. The older man, the one with the salt and pepper hair has a square box in his lap; he is trying to communicate with his rescuers but they are trying to secure the rest of the building.
I climb out of the service elevator and leave through the building’s maintenance room. There are no police this end because it is not on the documented blue prints; I knew this when I chose the building, it was added later and never updated.
If Teacher hadn’t been killed by one of his own then things would have turned out differently. I would have held my ground until he was released, then we would have hidden ourselves underground, regrouping and redrafting the plan. I had the resources. But when the truth hit me like the sucker punch that it was, I had to change my approach. These people don’t matter to me, they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Only Teacher matters, he is all that has ever mattered.
I walk down the alley taking a mobile from my pocket as I go. I compose a text message and send it, then I throw the phone away.
Out into the main street and across the road I get into a taxi and drive away. As I go, four boxes in the building now infested with SWAT and police – including the one in salt-and-peppers lap – explode in unison, tearing the building and everyone in it, to flaming shreds.
A shower of glass and burning stone fall upon the onlookers as I ask the taxi driver to take me to the bus station. The explosion is a rumble behind us, but we are far enough away for it to be lost beneath the sound of the driver singing to the music from the radio.f
‘Where you going friend?’ the cabbie asks
‘South’ I answer
Dear Simeon may be in hiding I think to myself, but the family he loves so much are not.
I have their address, and before they die, they deserve to know the truth.