Red Dust

This story, like many in The Last Word collection, is based on a true incident. See more stories in this collection and others at Stoned Cherry.

The car was surprisingly intact when the explosive ordnance disposal team arrived.

It was a high-end Mercedes, a black executive limousine for someone of standing in the corporate world. And it was armored, intended to protect the occupant from an outside attack. That probably accounted for how relatively intact the vehicle now was, with the bomb exploded from within the car.

Some things are just hard to plan for.

The team leader pried open the back passenger-side door, the left side door closest to the curb as the smoking hulk sat askew the high street, a rather ordinary high street like hundreds of others in towns and cities across Britain. The high street now cordoned off to traffic in the wake of the attack.

The team leader peered inside the door, the door that had been left ajar by the blast, seeing into the smoldering car interior through his plastic eye protection.

The back seat was empty, burned, singed black, still hot from the blast, but empty. No body.

The team leader at first thought perhaps there was no passenger in the limousine and the blast was for naught. He thought that for a moment, until he saw the shoes.

Just a pair of leather shoes, rather nice shoes they looked to be, there on the floor of the car, positioned exactly as if they were still filled by their wearer.

There were the leather shoes. And the red dust. A fine red dust that covered the whole rear passenger space.

“Looks like there wasn’t no one in the car.” The voice, the heavily Midlands-accented voice of a junior member of the team, came from behind the lead. “No body. Picked the wrong fuckin’ ” — he pronounced it fookin’ — “time, they did.”

The mangled body of the driver was pushed forward over — actually into — the steering wheel. The blast that killed him and impaled his body on the steering column came from behind the vehicle’s internal protective barrier and was dampened by it.

“Just that poor bugger. He caught it, sure enough.”

The junior team member was looking toward the dead chauffeur, his red blood that had run down the steering column quickly congealed into a brownish stain from the residual heat of the blast.

The team leader spoke.

“No, there was someone in the car, all right.”

“There was? So where’s the fuckin’ body?”

“See the red dust, mate? Covering everything? That’s him. Vaporized by the blast.”

“Blow me, no!” The junior team member let out a burst of air from his lungs. “Mother of fuckin’ God.”

Again he pronounced it fookin’, and repeated it.

“Mother of fookin’ God.”

The junior team member’s voice was incredulous and his words trailed off until they disappeared into the acrid air, just as the car’s occupant had disappeared, only it took much longer for the junior team member’s words to disappear than it took the important man in the back of the limousine to vaporize.

“No. That’s him, all right. The dumb cunt never knew what hit him. But that’s him. Just red dust now. Vaporized right out of his fancy shoes.”

And there were the shoes, still tied and polished and neat, resting just as if there were someone still inside them, resting there on the floor of the ruined car, resting as silent testimony that someone was in the car when the bomb went off.

It was a powerful blast, directed exactly where it needed to be. And the man that was its target — it turned out he was a powerful banker — took the full force of the blast and was gone in an instant, gone and vaporized in less time than it takes the second hand of a watch, an expensive watch at that, to quiver, imperceptibly, before moving on to the next second.

Gone from the ankles up, sucked right out of his pretty shoes and sent sprinkling in a spray of fine red dust that finally came to settle throughout the rear compartment of the ruined car, covering every part of it, even settling onto the banker’s expensive shoes.

In an instant. Less than an instant. In the quiver of a watch’s second hand.

The banker was on the phone when the car passed the trigger man. He was in the midst of discussing a major deal with a colleague, another executive, a subordinate executive, in the important bank that he headed and which was his destination that morning, when the trigger man, the unknown trigger man, pushed the button that set off the bomb that had been placed in the car, at the bottom of the internal protective barrier, while it was being serviced the night before.

It was an important deal, one the banker had been negotiating for months, and now it was close to conclusion, close to a signing, and hundreds of millions of pounds would flow from the bank to a key corporate client. The banker was dissatisfied the closing was taking so long to arrange but now he felt confident that the deal was near completion.

And then the trigger man, the unknown trigger man poised somewhere along the pavement on that ordinary high street, the trigger man mingled in with the morning shoppers or maybe stopped on a bicycle along the side of the street, the trigger man, perhaps scruffy and ill-kempt or maybe well dressed and dandy or just ordinary in every respect, the dispassionate trigger man pushed the button detonating the bomb, pushed the button, the small black button, or maybe it was red or perhaps green, and the important banker was transformed instantly into red dust. Red dust now covering the inside of his expensive Mercedes limousine. Just it and the expensive shoes were all that remained of the powerful banker and his important telephone conversation and his major corporate finance deal.

“Mother of fuckin’ God, what a job they did.”

And they had.

“C’mon, get the evidence kit and let’s get to work, mate.” The team leader spoke to the junior team member. “There’s nothin’ anyone can do for these poor bastards.”

And so they went to work picking up trace elements of the bomb’s explosive charge and with them specks of the red dust that was the powerful banker.

No cremation would be needed and the red dust was vacuumed up for burial. It would make for a great story when the team leader related it to an enthralled Yank in a dark, noisy bar somewhere in the Balkans a few years later.

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