Slick As Steel.
It was in a bar on a cold, dark, rainy night, on a secluded side street in one of the busiest cities in the world. A man dressed in the finest black suit, his hair a dark copper slicked neatly in a side parting. He sat in a dark pub. It was late, no-one else was around. The barman was putting the chairs upside down on the tables. The man is sat slumped and dejected at a piano. Playing a piece of music so soulful and beautiful the barman couldn’t help but listen. As the barman pulled the final chair from the ground and placed it on the table he called over to the mysterious man.
“Sorry mate, you play really nice but I’m gonna ‘ave to ask you to go” the barman said in a thick London accent.
The man stopped, but stayed sat at the piano. A wry smile crept its way onto his face.
“Do you believe in God, barman?” in an accent so pitch perfect he would have made James Bond sound working class. Taken a little by surprise with the mans question he replies tentatively;
“Er, yeah, sort of. I ain’t no saint, but I think there has to be more than this.”
The man’s expression changed little. “I’ll tell you a little story then? Seen as there is no one around?”
Transfixed by the mans tone, the barman could do little but agree. He took the chair he had just stacked on the table, sat and listened to the man. Here is what he said.
“I came to, feeling hazy and confused. I sat up. I was on the ground a few feet from where my desk used to be. When more aware, I realised I was in what used to be my office. The partitions were collapsed and my desk was toppled on its side. Fire was licking from the outside of the building up to the heavens. It was like being in hell. As I gained more consciousness, I climbed to my feet. My head felt like a rusty screwdriver was boring into to my brain. I could feel the heat from the flames, but as I looked over myself, I realised that besides a ruined suit I was okay. I looked for my manager, as if she would sit up from her desk and say that it was all, somehow, my fault and I would have to make up the time. This didn’t happen. What did happen is I realised I should probably get out of there. Luckily I had no work friends, so I wasn’t too concerned with saving anybody. I did however see if anyone was moving. Eerily there wasn’t, bizarrely I couldn’t even see a single person. Maybe I’m dreaming I thought. How can an office with what seemed like 50 or so people suddenly be empty? Even if it was a dream, there was no use hanging around. The stairwell seemed like the most logical exit, as I remembered from reading the health and safety notice in the elevator ’IN THE EVENT OF FIRE DO NOT USE ELEVATOR’. I was on the 90th floor of the north tower. I had never had to walk down 90 flights of stairs before. I mean I‘m not lazy, I cycle around the park, walk places. But 90 flights of stairs! If only I had wings.
“I reached the stairwell and started walking down, still with no-one around me. Was I the only survivor? I thought. No, there were no bodies remember, they just left you to die. My sceptical conscience always helped keep me in a slightly depressed state of mind. Floor 80. That wasn’t too bad.
Only 79 to go. I wondered if my car was okay. I know what you’re thinking, something terrible has happened, there could be hundreds if not thousands dead and all you can think is, ‘is your car okay?’. You know what? I don’t care. I didn’t get to be where I am worrying about ‘feelings‘. I was a city trader not a charity worker. I’m not even religious, so I don’t have any repenting to worry about. Plus the car was a Mercedes e63 AMG. So yes, I was more worried about the car than my fellow workers. What you need remember is that everyone else working there was the same as me. They would sooner pull the plug on your life support if they thought it would get them ahead. They also left me to die, so at that point they could have burned for all I cared. As I regained more composure I started to pick up the pace. Floor 60. Floor 50, the numbers were tumbling quicker than a dot-com’s share price. Floor 46 and I had to transfer to the adjacent stairwell. I opened the door and I could hear voices. Not in my head, actual people. I wasn’t sure if I should be angry or happy not to be alone in this mess. The adjacent stairwell took me past the mini dining hall area, filled with restaurants that us city traders enjoy. High class but slightly distastefully decorated places that served burgers made from rare animals, and chips from rare potatoes. The voices I had heard were from a small group of five senior looking, over 50ish executives, all wheeling briefcases and carrying 2 tablet computers towards the stairwell, which would take us down to the mall at the bottom of the trade centre. They looked worse than I did, covered in thick dust clumped around freshly made cuts around their heads and hands. One man was in a pretty bad way and seemed to not be able to move his arm and walked hastily with a limp towards, what would be, the way out. Although my main priority was to exit the building, my curiosity had got the better of me. I approached the group.
“Hey guys, what going on?” I asked.
A silver haired well built man turned with a look of confusion and dread.
“Huh?.. Where did you come from?” replied the man in a clean cut Bostonian accent.
“I came from Smith & Albertson. On the 90th…”
“The 90th! You’re shitting me. Everyone beyond 88 is either dead or dying or jumped out the window.”
“…Jumped from the window?”
My relaxed attitude towards escaping was inappropriately inappropriate. I felt a strange sense of guilt and sorrow. I had gone past so many people who where either dead or dying or jumping out of the window.
“Are you all in one piece?” I asked trying to divert my conscience and their accusing glares.
The man who looked in the worst state mustered up the energy to answer.
“I’ve been better.” He coughed and spluttered and turned away, as if to hide his weakness from the others.
The silver haired man continued. “Here’s what I know kid; a passenger plane just crashed into the tower, and the other one too.”
“We managed to save these files and we are heading for the exit.”
“Files? You saved the files?”
“Yes. And what of it?”
I had not even been as thoughtful to save a plant. So to try and clamber on the moral high horse was pointless.
“Never mind, I think we need to get out of here.”
The building was starting to reverberate like a double bass in an echo chamber. The lights flickering more and more like a dying cancer patients vital signs. Still no screams or sound of panic.
We made it to the stairwell which would get us all but out of the building. The stairwell was pitch black, the emergency exit signs weren’t even on. Luckily, this being the 21st century, we all had mobile phones. Before you could say Iphone 5s, the stair well where we stood lit up like a Coldplay concert.
“We were 40 floors away from relative safety and freedom. I started to think of what it would have been like to be in one of the planes. I suppose it would have been more conclusive than this, as by now it really did sound like the building was screaming from its steel structure right through to the concrete under our feet, which was starting to feel like one of those foot massagers, but not pleasant.
“We reached the pedestrian exit, which looked like a scene from an apocalypse film. Flashing red and blue lights flickered over the once pristine, high gloss wall tiles. I now had a decision to make. The tower definitely sounded like it was going to collapse. I had already beaten death once, so do I take my winnings and run? Hell no, I’m an investment banker, I live for risk. I took the service stairs leaving the old guys to exit and get the medical attention they needed. 40 flights of stairs would be enough to finish off most Americans. They ran as much as they could to the exit, leaving me alone again. The car park was the first place I had noticed the fire sprinklers working. The smell of the wet concrete mixing with old oil and petrol was thick and fresh. At last I saw her, my baby. In my head she was a hungry cat meowing for her breakfast. In reality it was a piece of metal, cold with no feelings. The three pointed star was better than the reality of New York, and just as cold. I ran to my car like a child to a father. Stopped, …“Keys!”. I had no key. I checked my trouser pockets, nothing but my mobile phone, a few dollars and wallet. Panic spread like it maybe should have at the start of this. My jacket pockets empty as the day I bought it. Now I was in the worst situation of my life. No keys and so past the point of no return that my only option was to hope I had the escapology of Houdini. As that thought past my mind, the loudest of whines, like a whale being harpooned, the ground rumbled like it was made of stage boards. The building was coming down. My only hope was that since the bombings of ‘97 the builders had made it bomb proof. Bomb proof or not, lets try and get out of here I thought. I ran to my car, started the engine and floored the throttle. I was just inches from the exit when a huge part of the building, a section of the outer wall the size of a greyhound bus, hit the ground and wedged itself against what remained of the towers foundations and the opposite side of the street. It avoided me obviously as I wouldn’t be here telling you this tail. I floored the gas and hung a left. I had no idea what to do next but it didn’t matter. It was over.
“I finally had chance to take stock of what had happened.
“You see there is something about me that I didn’t mention. A detail that makes what happened even more illogical and far fetched. There were no terrorists or conspiracy. I just get so tired of the greed and coldness of humanity sometimes. So to help balance out the many millions who die due to famine, disease and exploitation by these people, I feel the need to level the playing field, free up some assets as it were. It’s funny, people think of me as an evil guy, all about death, torture and debauchery, but I was the one who got his wings cut by the almighty one. He’s the real ass. All I did was suggest that rather than have all these people having to kill in his name, can’t he just give some sort of sign he exists? Maybe he did. Maybe by putting me on this earth he was sending a message.”
“So barman, do you still believe in god?” The man said sportingly.
The barman who surprisingly wasn’t too taken aback by the presence of Lucifer himself in his bar replied with the straightest of faces.
“Yes. I told you.”
“Do you believe in me?”
“If I had a pound for every man who claimed to be the Messiah or Santa Clause I wouldn’t be sat here talking to you.” The barman didn’t sound too convincing.
Lucifer got up from his stool at the piano, slowly and with intent. The barman tensed, only slightly.
But saying nothing He walked slowly towards the exit.
“Before I go I will leave you with this: God gave me these powers and he put me on your planet to use them against you, rather than show himself.” The piano started to play on its own. The man claiming to be Lucifer left. The barman tried to remember the story he had just been told but it faded like a white board in a rainstorm. No trace.
A Short Story For Morons, By A Moron.
The message came through at ten minutes before lunch. It was, up until then, a normal day. I was looking forward to the delights of a publicly funded lunch at the HQ Canteen. The incoming call alarm sounded, so I checked my computer.
**EMERGENCY A suspicious package has been discovered at Glasgow Airport on a plane bound for Russia. The plane is located on the heavy aircraft ramp…all crews have been evacuated…URGENT RESPONSE REQUIRED** the encrypted message announced. It was a surprise to hear it was flying towards Russia. Most of these things tend to have some connection to the Arab world, Muslim fundamentalist groups attacking the West (by which they really mean Christianity). But as this was a plane bound for Russia, we were intrigued. The police report was fairly vague on the details. A large device had been located on a cargo flight sending replacement parts to a storage facility in a Russian industrial town.
“Sounds to me like someone’s made a mistake” Adam said.
“Nah, more like someone’s found a photocopier and thinks its going to explode” I joked. Most of the calls we get are like that. Someone finds a suitcase with a metal container on top and, sure enough, it turns out to be someone travelling home with a lunch box full of sandwiches and a Pringles tube, not Semtex. I blame the media personally, anyone who is slightly foreign is a suspect because of right-wing propaganda.
We have to take these calls seriously though, so we climbed in our Mercedes E63 Estate, modified for bomb disposal (a boot full of bomb disposal stuff), and set off. It was a long drive, but as we were responding to an emergency we could go flat out all the way. In the Merc this is very exhilarating.
After a 3 hour thrash with blues and twos whaling, we arrived at an unusually beautiful Glasgow Airport, bathing in sunshine and not a cloud in the sky. We were greeted by the usual scene of blue flashing lights, police barrier tape and PCSOs doing traffic duties and getting shouted at by the public. The service gate to the airport was our access point. The device was discovered on a DHL A300 cargo plane. We had to head to the furthest end of the airport where all the cargo planes are located, luckily some distance away from the domestic flights. The gate was guarded by a small group of armed Officers. As usual at these scenes, the closer you get to ground zero, the heavier the security gets. By this time there were several news crews that had set up at the safe zone in the airport car park. Reporters were tarting up and camera crews where trying to get the best shots of the plane in question, just visible from the airport perimeter.
We approached the gate and came to a halt at the stop barrier. Armed Officer 533 approached (he must have been in charge). He waited to see what we had to say. There was an awkward pause as our car did say BOMB DISPOSAL on the side, me and Adam never really had to explain. After maybe 20 seconds..
“We are here for the bomb” I said at the wheel of my car.
“Oh I see, can I see some I.D.” Officer 533 replied.
I can’t blame him for doing things by the book, but I couldn’t help myself. I flashed my I.D; “Your new aren’t you?”
He smiled. “No Sir, I just needed to know your name” he suggested flirtatiously, giving a cheeky wink. He gestured to the officer responsible for opening the gate to let us through. Sure enough, his colleague obliged. We realised that, as we roared away in our car, we didn’t actually know where to go. Luckily, as I checked the rear view, Officer 533 gestured again, this time giving the ‘go right’ arm signal. We drove right and within 5 minutes we were on our own approaching the A300.
The plane was faintly illuminated by powerful spot lights, not much use at 5 pm in mid-June, but they’re there as part of procedure. The stage gets set and we role in and be the heroes. We stopped about 20 meters from the plane and geared up. The device was described as large, so we felt their was no need for the usual bomb disposal Kevlar suit. If it went off we were dead, it was that simple. We also had the arrogance that we could disarm anything, having a 100% success rating (obviously) and 12 years of experience in the Middle East and South America.
The suspicious cargo was located in the A300’s hold, the door to the hold was conveniently left open for us. On entering the aircraft it was obvious, very obvious. A large studio piano sized wooden crate had one side prized off and exposed was a huge, part metallic, part plastic bomb, with two chambers filled with liquid and a central column which housed the electronics. It looked like it was made by Wiley Coyote, it was so big. But the Acme mark wasn’t there, this was real, not a cartoon.
“This is a joke, right?” Adam said.
“If it is, then good. But for now we have to take it seriously” I told him.
At the top of the device was an inactive LED timer display.
“…must be set to activate in Russia” I said in hope that we had time on our hands.
“…or a joke” Adam repeated.
The thought crossed my mind that maybe he was right. I opened up the central column with a high powered cutter. As soon as I removed the piece of metal detached by the cutter, a wire snapped. The LED display activated with a message.
‘ 0y, 0y’ the bomb mocked. A clever use of a three digit display. The timer then began at 5 minutes.
“Right, I think we now assume it is very much not a joke” I said.
“OK, we know what we need to do” Adam replied, acknowledging my observation.
We started by looking for more booby traps. Most bomb makers have bomb disposal in mind when creating their weapon, so install traps to ensure the device at least kills the deactivator.
I checked the underside of the bomb using a specially adapted mirror they usually use when looking for car bombs, as the device was too low to the ground to get a good look underneath. “Clear.”
Adam checked around the canisters and the opening and the top. “Clear.”
“OK, lets get this show on the road.” The easiest way to deactivate any device is to freeze all the circuitry and render it useless that way. So I reached for my canister of freeze spray.
“Wait” Said Adam. “ I see a thermoreceptor.”
“Damn it! This is turning out to be a really tricky little bastard.“
We worked quickly, but the timer had already reached 4:00 minutes. It looked like we would have to do it the old fashioned way, the way it’s done in all the Hollywood movies. Cut the wire! I had my wire cutters in my back pocket and reached into the opening where the wires were housed. Pulling a large cluster of cable tied wires, I took a deep breath and prepared to cut. What the movies don’t tend to show is that you can cut any of the wires, it really doesn’t matter. We tend to pick red, because it’s the first colour people generally think of.
I delicately clipped the red wire. Nothing happened!
“Hmmm…” I pulled the wiring loom, the whole thing came loose.
“Ha! Another trap” Adam shrugged nervously.
“So is it safe to assume the bomb is using a wireless detonator?”
“I have a really strange feeling about this whole thing.”
He was right. The whole thing just seemed odd. A bomb going to a part of Russia no one cares about. A bomb that has so many booby traps, the whole thing felt like one of those vintage comedy shows where people stumble about, stand on rakes and have buckets fall on their heads. Not a lot was making sense, but we still had to assume that this was a real bomb and it was really going to kill us. Just because we do this job, doesn’t mean we have a death wish.
The timer was down to the last minute.
“ I think we should try and remove the timer” said Adam.
“That’s a great idea Adam, how do you suggest we do that” I said sarcastically. Having already tried to remove the timer by cutting the wires.
Adam reached for an unusual bomb disposal tool, a rather imprecise looking claw hammer.
“ Are you serious?” I said, half worried and half in a state of disbelief that all our years of training was being summed up by hitting it with a hammer. Without hesitation, Adam hit the timer with the hammer and sure enough it smashed. The bomb made a whirring sound and clunked.
“ Is it dead?” I squirmed.
There was an awkward silence, neither Adam or I were sure.
Our answer came shortly after Adam had demolished the timer. A screen rose up from where the now broken timer was attached and activated. A Google Maps style globe appeared on the screen and pinned our position, it zoomed out and then pinned a new position, zoomed back in and went to a CCTV camera in what looked like a very busy Oxford Street. I think at that point we knew what was coming, but hoped we where wrong. Sure enough, KABOOM! A massive explosion filled the screen. Seconds passed in what seemed like an eternity. The smoke cleared and the scene was the worst imaginable image. Body parts filled the screen. Some obviously young children reduced to bug like spatter on a car windscreen. Smashed buildings smoked and smouldered in the aftermath. The screen played its final message. ‘Death to the West’, and like that, it was over.
The bomb we had been sent to deactivate was a joke, a set up. We saw it but disregarded it as easy as that. We had not deactivated a weapon, we had pulled the trigger.
I think I begin to see the end. it’s slightly damp and murky.
I see the end of the line, its been an emotional journey full of joy, adventure and great people…In all seriousness that’s a load of shit.. I think for the most part it’s been quite tedious at best, at worst I have sometimes wondered that if you are what is deemed to be human, if it would be better being a wolf or a trout.
I have found the secret to a happy life. I encountered pure love. I still feel the same..This just makes a difficult decision even more guilt felt. I don’t care if a better word exists to say guilt felt, I couldn’t think of it so just fuck off!
What more is there to expect? illness? More drunk people? What? A speeding train is travelling at 70 miles per hour at what time will it crush your skull and turn you into a human omelette?
How much more nonsensical can this post get? No I have not been drinking, I am not on drugs. I am just at the end of my self sensor screener’s life cycle, so I have not barriers as to what I will say..
I wish you all a happy life..I hope you enjoy your ipad, booze and consumerist lifestyle. I hope your faith keeps you sleeping soundly at night. I hope that those kids getting killed in Africa know what they are missing out on..Have a great life, but have it without me
There is a river down by where I live. On the surface it’s calm and tranquil. The green riverbanks, trees and wishy-washy blue sky reflect off its surface, disrupted by the tiny ripples of the rivers flow. Driftwood and old plastic bags float effortlessly by.
It is difficult to see what goes on under the surface of this river. Is it a utopia of small fish zooming about looking for smaller microbes to feed on, larger fish swishing across the bottom with lazy lurches of their tails? Underwater reed beds, an explosion of life? Like the hustle and bustle of a big city at rush hour.
Or is it a rusty shopping trolley, the odd fish in the reeds, hiding from big fish with razor sharp miss-aligned teeth? A rat flailing across to feed off the corpse of a dead bird? A murky land filled with everything that wants to eat everything else in as grim a way as possible?
The river down-by-where I live is full of secrets. I’m not sure I want to find out what they are.