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.