47 Random Fragments of Unauthorised Hope and Despair


SHE HAD seen the old man in the cafe before, but had never spoken to him.

Nobody ever did. He seemed to pretty much keep to himself.

So the fellow looked up with some surprise when she addressed him.

“Sorry? I didn’t... Were you talking to me?”

“Bloody terrorists, I said.”

She gestured outside to the confusion of flashing blue lights, scientists in decontam suits and anti-terror police, fully geared up for a Class A alert.

“Hmmmm...” said the old man with a thin smile and looked back down at his newspaper.

This was actually quite encouraging. Usually people had a word or two of their own to add, a punishment they’d personally relish seeing meted out to the ubiquitous scum who caused them so much inconvenience.

She tried again: “Roads are all closed,” she said.

“Traffic’s backed up for miles. Buses aren’t running. Trains are all cancelled. Nobody can get anywhere.”

“Oh dear,” said the old man, mildly.

She turned round very obviously to face outside and watch the flurry and bustle of security activity.

Then she swivelled back, leaned conspiratorially over the table and whispered, fairly loudly: “You’d have thought with all that lot on the job they’d have caught them by now, wouldn’t you?”

The old chap’s mouth fell open with surprise and he couldn’t stop himself glancing round the cafe to see if anyone was listening.

They didn’t seem to be and the music was quite loud, but he was probably also worried about microphones. She thought she ought to put him at ease on that score.

“Don’t worry about the mikes,” she said. “The ones up this end are knackered. I know the manager. She told me.”

She smiled at him. “That’s why I come in here,” she added. “Bit of privacy. Bit of a chat, off the record. Maybe buy a few grammes.”

The old man looked decidedly uncomfortable.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’m not really trouble.”

He shook his head, dismissing any suggestion that he had thought she was.

“And I’m not trying to pull you, honest!” she added.

He smiled and almost chuckled.

“I’m certainly happy to take your word on that,” he said.

He would be lucky to attract any attention from a woman his own age, let alone one 40 years younger, like her, with the best blonde hair money could buy and a brazen allure that more than made up for any lack of natural inner beauty.

The old man put down his newspaper and drew his chair closer to the table.

It had worked.

“What’s going on out there, anyway?” he asked her.

She shrugged.

“Dunno. They never say, do they? They all turn up, say there’s a Class A or whatever, fuck everything up, storm in and out of people’s houses, then before you know it they’ve all buggered off again and that’s the last you hear of it.

“This is the third one I’ve seen since Christmas. One time they took some geezers off with hoods over their heads - said on the news they’d ‘cracked a major cell’ or something. But then we had the Victoria palaver last week, so you have to wonder if they got the right people after all, don’t you?”

The old man looked around the cafe again, though a little less anxiously than before.

“My dear,” he said. “You really should be a little more careful about what you say. It doesn’t do to criticise them out loud, microphones or no microphones. You’ll land yourself in big trouble and neither of us would want that, would we?”

This was so touching, she thought, He really likes me.

She decided it was safe to move the whole thing on a bit.

“I don’t say it all out loud,” she said.

“There’s some things I keep to myself. I wouldn’t tell anyone in here. Or anywhere else. I’m not that stupid.”

“Good,” said the old man. And then, after a pause, added: “That’s something it’s very important to learn as you go through life.”

She felt that special shiver run down her back. Her instinct had been right, she was sure now. He was definitely someone worth speaking to. Someone on that particular wavelength.

“Listen,” she said, leaning ever closer and lowering her voice to a barely audible level.

“I’m going to be very careful how I say this and I’m not going to take it any further, but have you ever, in your wildest and most insane moments, ever pondered over the immense stupidity and criminality of those misguided and dangerous individuals who, I have heard, actually have the effrontery to claim that there aren’t really any terrorists at all and that those who do commit atrocities are in fact fully in the pay of the government and its various agencies?”

He smiled, amused no doubt by the cunningly convoluted nature of her question.

“Yes,” he said gently. “I have often pondered over that.”

That was it! She had him! She made the signal and the snatch squads burst in simultaneously from the front and back of the cafe.

They had it all on audio, visual, the lot.

Full admission of terrorist sympathies, plus furthering the cause of terrorism by communicating those sympathies to a third party, namely herself.

Lock him up and throw away the key!

She caught a glimpse of the old man’s weak, frightened, confused little terrorist face just before they put the security hood over his head and for that moment she knew more than ever that she could never get enough of this job.