A darkened, dank cellar somewhere in Kent. A crudely daubed ISIS flag adorns the wall next to a poster showing the World Trade Centre in flames. The poster has a red love heart painted around it. A single candle glows in the middle of a large round table, barely illuminating the faces of the ten men seated. The men’s appearances identify them as Muslim but, alas, their thoughts and deeds do not. The eldest rises to speak.
“Well, thank you all for coming. We have a lot to get through, so I’ll crack on without my usual prevarication.” A smattering of polite, agreeable laughter. “As you all know, we need to start planning our next event, and we were hoping to really push the boat out this year. Brexit and Trump are really stoking the coals — as it were — of bigotry and hatred, so we think that the time is ripe for a proper wallop; a real — if you’ll pardon my French — ‘up yours’ to the hated infidels.”
“Hear hear,” says one man; “Jolly good,” says another; “Allah be praised,” a third.
“With that in mind, I’d like to tentatively propose Parliament as our next high-profile target. Do I have a seconder?”
“Parliament?” sneers a ferrety-looking Mancunian at the foot of the table, “it’s a bit on-the-nose, isn’t it?”
“It’s a classic for a reason, Keith.”
“Seconded,” burps a fat man through his beard.
“Excellent! Thank you, Wayne. A vote then. Those in favour by show of hands.” The assembly cast their votes with varying degrees of enthusiasm. “I count five hands, a hook, and… Sebastian, are you voting or just showing off your stump?”
Sebastian, a delicate man with young features who is the only attendee with no facial hair whatsoever, sheepishly lowers his incomplete arm.
“Yes, Sebastian, we’re all aware of your immensely valuable – and evidently dangerous — work with the bomb-making committee, but you can’t go to paradise one piece at a time, Sebastian, with martyrdom it’s all or nothing.”
Several of the older attendees nudge one another and chuckle. The reddening Sebastian shifts uncomfortably and shrinks into his seat.
“So, the motion is carried — no offence, Sebastian — with a majority of seven to three. Parliament it is, then. Now, a plan of attack. I’m going to open the floor to suggestions on this one, but please remember, gentlemen; this has to be high-impact stuff. We want to strike the fear of Allah into the hated oppressors with a sabre blow to the very heart of their vile democracy.
“Hear hear,” says one man; “Jolly good,” says another; “Allah be praised,” a third.
“However, time is short and funds are limited. Furthermore, the plan must be simple. After all, we don’t want to be remembered for — ahem — putting the “error” into “terrorism” now, do we.” More polite laughter. “So, with that in mind… Gentlemen, the floor is yours.”
An expectant hush shrouds the murderous cabal. First to speak is Wayne, the brash, fat seconder. He first looks around the table in exaggerated, wide-eyed expectancy trying to give the impression that he is waiting for someone to break the silence. In fact, he is making sure that everyone is listening. He speaks with a squeaky Midlands twang without first raising his hand.
“Crish a ploine in-tau it.” He says, smugly.
“Pardon?” says the elder.
“Crish a jimbo jit in-tau it.”
“A big ploine. A jimbo jit. We hoy-jick a jimbo jit and crish it into the haa-ziz of parley-mint.”
“Oh! A PLANE. We crash a plane into it. Yes?”
“Yis. Loyk noyn ilivin.”
“NOYN ILIVIN.” Wayne, increasingly exasperated, gesticulates at the poster depicting the World Trade Centre.
“Ah! Nine-eleven. Yes. I see. Great stuff. A burning parliament. Hundreds dead. Images scorched into the minds of generations to come. And how might we go about this, Wayne?”
The rotund Brummie tuts and rolls his eyes as if the answer perfectly obvious. He leans forwards and speaks as if addressing children.
“Yow train one of us to floy a jimbo jit, Git eight or noyne of us on a ploine with foike pissports, we smuggle bloy-did wippins threw some of tha toitest security in the werld, ovapawa the cabin crew, quash any resistance boi tha pissingers, toik con-trahl of the jimbo jit, and floy it into Big Bin.”
The elder strokes his hirsute chin. “Hmm. Sounds complicated. It’ll cost thousands, if not millions, and take years to plan. Anyone else?” Wayne, deflated, slumps back in his chair.
Keith, the rodent-like Mancunian cynic, raises his hand, and is prompted to speak.
“A coordinated suicide bombing campaign like the seven-seven tube attack. Four or five of us with backpack explosives approach parliament from different directions simultaneously. Once inside, or at least in the grounds, the bombs are detonated in quick succession, the sound of the first being the signal for the others, causing untold death, panic, and millions of pounds worth of damage to the very machine of our oppression. This, my brothers, is true terrorism.”
“I like it, Keith. I like it a lot,” nods the elder, “but there are a lot of moving parts, aren’t there. I mean, four or five committed martyrs may not be so easy to come by,” murmurs of agreement, “and the sourcing of materials and preparation of the backpacks themselves is hardly trivial. Don’t you agree, Sebastian.” The barely muffled chuckles of the assembly burn the bungling bomb-maker’s ears. Buoyed by rage at their derision he strikes the table with his mangled arm.
“BATACLAN!” he blurts.
“Hear hear,” says one man; “Jolly good,” says another; “Is there biscuits?” a third.
“Go on…” says the elder.
“Erm… The Bataclan Club in Paris,” offers Sebastian, more self-conscious now under the gaze of the room, “or the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Ten-or-so highly trained, weapon-skilled soldiers-of-Allah undertake an audacious, meticulously planned full-frontal assault armed with AK47s and grenades. London will quake.”
The elder pauses thoughtfully. “It’s certainly got legs, Sebastian. But we just don’t have the resources. Highly trained men? AK47s? Grenades? Do you have any idea how difficult it is to smuggle automatic weapons into this country? What’s more, we’d need detailed maps of the area and grounds, watertight intelligence on the security detail and its movements months in advance. This, after all, is the Houses of Parliament, one of the most protected buildings in the world. If we are to succeed where Guy Fawkes failed, we need something brilliant, something unprecedented, something devastating, someth–”
His musing is cut short by the sound of metal crashing on the other side of the cellar door. It swings open with a thud, and a cross-eyed, fifty-something man with a chin-strap beard and a wobbly gut stumbles into the room. He has a metal mop-bucket stuck on his foot and carries a plastic bag, the contents of which are spilling onto the floor through a hole rent in its side. He holds it up for the men to see.
“Fucking five pee that cunt. Sorry I’m late. My Hyundai shat itself outside Lidl,” he says.
“Oh, hello Adrian,” says the elder unenthusiastically. The other nine conspirators mumble indistinct, reluctant greetings at the newcomer.
“It’s not Adrian no more, it’s Khalid. I changed it.”
“Save it for the Daily Mail, Adrian. Anyway, now you’re here, we’re in the middle of planning a devastating attack on Westminster. Something brilliant, something unprecedented, somethi–”
“Something devastating. Yeah, I ‘eard.” He is on hands and knees, chasing Babybel cheeses around the floor and reaching under chairs to retrieve individually boxed apple pies. “Well, I got an idea.” He stands, grunting with effort as he does so. “I’m gonna drive the Hyundai over Westminster Bridge, bump a couple of muggles, and go at the brass wi’ me mum’s knife.”
The older men steal uncomfortable sideways glances at each other. Keith quietly mutters “for fuck’s sake…” Sebastian buries his head in his hand.
“Err… yes… well… I suppose we could put it to a vo-”
“It’ll be fuckin’ mint. I’ll be balls deep in virgins before you can shout ‘Admiral Ackbar.’”
“It’s ‘allahu ak-’ never mind.” The elder returns his attention to the meeting. “So, does Adrian’s… err… low-tech approach have a secon-“
Slam! The cellar door closes with such force as to extinguish the candle. The elder reignites it with a cheap lighter, and the growing flame pushes back the shadows to reveal that Adrian is gone. From beyond the door comes the muffled schlepping thud of a wet mop being kicked against a wall. A distant cry of “Fuckin’ thing… See you cunts in paradise, yeah?” And then a momentary silence.
“Brilliant. Just brilliant. Who invited that pillock?” says Keith.
“Leave him alone. He’s harmless,” replies Sebastian.
“Exactly,” snorts Keith.
“Gentlemen, please…” The elder, absently eyeing his lighter, breathes deeply and releases a long, resigned sigh. He sits and, without looking up, says quietly, “it appears we have our attack.”
“What!?” splutters Keith, his Northern drawl becoming increasingly strained, “that fucking slipper? You are fucking kidding me.”
“Perhaps. Perhaps not. But for our own safety we have to assume that he’ll go through with it. We need to draw this meeting to a close, gentlemen, and return to our families before the fallout.”
“Fallout!? FALLOUT? From THIS? Fallout is what you get after a fucking explosion, not when someone shits their pants. Best-case scenario is he manages to get to London without his fucking Hyundai blowing up, takes out one or two pedestrians, and maybe, just maybe, stabs a copper or a squaddie before getting shot. It’s not a terrorist attack; it’s a minor car accident and a pub-brawl. It’s fucking Mr. Bean with a beard.”
“Any strike against the infidels is a victory, brother,” offers Sebastian, “and, anyway, the media will report it as if it were a terror attack.”
“Oh don’t be so fucking stupid, Sebastian. The media will report it for exactly what it is; a delusional nutter in a shit car. They’d have to be mental to try and frame it as an organised, motivated terror attack. And even if they did, no one would swallow it. The British may be evil, Sebastian, but they’re not daft. They’d see through that kind of vulgar sensationalism in a heartbeat. Remember when that arsehole killed that MP? What was her name?”
“Yeah, Jo Cox. Well, no one called that a terror attack, did they. Same thing: a gibbering fuckwit has a pop at the establishment and somehow lucks out. But the press didn’t call that cunt a terrorist.”
“No, but he was whi-”
“Exactly. We’ve got to face facts, brothers; the press isn’t going to do our job for us this time. There’ll be no rolling coverage, no front-page spreads days after the event, no impassioned calls for calm, no think-pieces, no hot-takes, no wreaths. Just an insurance write-off and another dead paki.”
The elder laughs humourlessly and places the lighter on the table. “I must say, Keith, that’s a rather pessimistic view of the glorious martyrdom of our brother Adrian. Surely some good will come of this? There’s a slim chance he’ll be overheard saying ‘allahu akbar’ or dedicating his actions to the caliphate, don’t you think? Some way his actions can be used to stir up islamophobia?”
Keith sighs, calmer now. “Sure, I suppose. But without the illusion of organisation they’ll just see another failure of care in the community, a repeat offender with a history of mental problems, a lone psycho who messed up his meds. No one will see we exist. No one will realise he’s a soldier in a holy war. The police aren’t going to help us by making a series of highly publicised arrests the next day so that he looks like part of a conspiracy, only to release those arrested without charge or fanfare a few days later. The police aren’t that fucking cynical. Or irresponsible.”
“Hmmm,” says one man; “Mmmm,” says another; “Mmmmbiscuits?” a third.
The elder glances around the room. It’s obvious that the meeting is all but over. The mood has soured. Some of the older men are stifling yawns, while the younger ones appear agitated, eager to leave the scene of the non-crime.
“Alas, Keith, though it pains me to admit it, I suspect you’re right. It would be a fool indeed who would call the actions of a man with a mop-bucket on his foot terrorism. It would appear that it is back to the old drawing board, gentlemen. Suggestions to the usual email address. Usual code. And with that, I think we should call an early close to the proceedings.”
Murmured agreement. Chair legs groan against the bare concrete floor as the men rise. Some head straight for the door and are gone without a word, only the creaking of the wooden stairs acknowledging their departure. Others mumble small-talk as they put on their coats and reactivate their mobile phones. Keith casts his narrow eyes around the damp room one last time, frowning in resignation. He shakes the elder’s hand wordlessly and leaves. Then, there is only Sebastian and the elder.
As he is leaving, Sebastian pauses at the door. He turns, looks up and, for the first time, meets the elders gaze.
“Do you think… I mean, is it possible… that the infidels are just getting bored of us?”
“I suppose we’ll see tomorrow, won’t we Sebastian. Let’s hope not, eh.”
The elder follows the younger man through the door and closes it behind him.
And then the room is silent. For a few seconds, the agitated candle flame casts fluttering shadows of ten empty seats onto the cellar walls, then that too is still. A minute passes. Another. A barely perceptible scratching sound and, from the black recess of the farthest corner of the room, a pink, whiskered nose emerges. Emboldened by the silence and stillness, the rat ventures into the meagre light and scurries under one of the chairs towards a small red cardboard box. On the side of the box, in functional white capitals, is written ‘APPLE PIE’. The rat sniffs at it frantically for a few seconds, bites onto a loose flap of cardboard with its yellow incisors, and drags the box backwards into the darkness.