Bleary eyed and not a little hung over, Peter Ellis stooped to pick up the morning newspaper from the hallway floor, wincing as he did so at the stab of pain from behind his red bloodshot eyes. He groaned softly and dropped the paper onto the dining room table as he passed it, on his way to the kitchen. His mouth had a sour taste.
“I certainly downed a few last night” he thought as he took a breakfast bowl from the dishwasher, then fumbled with a cereal packet, half its contents showering onto the kitchen floor, enough of the ‘Golden Grahams’ reaching the bowl to fill it. Pete took a milk carton from the fridge, fought briefly with the ‘easy action opening’ then slashed raggedly across the top of the carton with the bread knife. He poured the creamy white liquid into his bowl, slopping some onto the worktop where it made a tiny puddle before dripping over the edge and onto the floor. He glanced down at the mess, then shrugged and put the carton to his lips, draining what was left inside and beginning to feel almost awake as the ice cold milk hit his stomach. “Shit!”, he thought “ I’m not doing that on a Monday night again”, but it had been the last chance he had for a drink with the friend he had made in his school days and after knowing each other – growing up together – for almost thirty years his friend was off to Australia and neither man knew when they might, if ever, meet up again.
Peter switched the kettle on, waited for it to boil, and made a pot of tea. He called up the stairs to Pat, his wife, that there was tea in the pot and then slumped into a chair at the table to eat his breakfast. Flipping the newspaper over to its torn back page ‘when was that bloody paper boy going to push it through the letter box without destroying the front page, back page, or both’ he thought, annoyed, he leafed back a couple of pages to the sport section. Pat brushed past his chair as she made a bee line for the tea pot.
“Well you hung one on last night didn’t you” she said from the kitchen, “ Have a good time then did we?”, the sarcasm in her voice lost on Pete.
“Oh yes” replied Peter, “But I can’t recommend it as a way to start the week !”
“So what time is Dave’s flight then ?”
“Eleven, I think he said”
“Hope it works out for him, I’ll miss the sod too. While you’ve got the paper, check for me what time that new thriller with Leslie Grantham is on tonight can you love ?”, asked Pat, “ I think its on ITV but I may be wrong and it might be on Four, oh and you certainly made a mess in here this morning – I hope you’re going to clear it up” she said.
“Yeah right, sorry”. Pete leafed back a few more pages and found the evening’s TV guide. He looked at the listings then called back to Pat, “Its not on tonight”.
“Must be” she replied “ I saw the trailer for it last night, after Coronation Street . I am sure that it is from eight until ten, because it’s a two hour special but I can’t remember which side, is all.”
Pete looked again. “Nah. Eight till nine on ITV is a special , buts its Corrie again “ he answered her.
“Can’t be Coronation Street, that’s on Wednesday”
“Well I am sorry, but it says here, Special one hour episode tonight, Ken’s shock suicide starts a chain of events…” and he read out the summary of the program “and on BBC there is Eastenders as usual” concluded Pete.
“But that’s tomorrow” said Pat, a little exasperated now.
Pete shoveled some cereal into his mouth. “What they’ve done” he said through a mouthful of food,” is to print the wrong TV guide. They’ve gone and put tomorrow’s in. I’ll have a look in the week end TV guide for you, in a minute”.
“S’alright, I can do it. You sit there and eat your breakfast” said Pat as she walked back from the kitchen and into the lounge. She picked up the magazine and checked the listings then went back to the dining room. Pete was now looking at the sports pages again, a puzzled look on his face.
“It is eight until ten, and on ITV” pat informed him.
“This is odd” said Pete”.
“What is ?”
Pete read from the newspaper, “Spurs broke their long run of defeats yesterday with an annihilation of newly promoted Reading, scoring four of their six one result in the first half of the match”.
“So ?” remarked Pat, football being very low in her interests.
“So the game isn’t played until tonight” said Pete.
“I think you’re still drunk” she replied, going upstairs now to apply her make up before they both set off for work.
Pete looked at the newspaper, still puzzled. He glanced at a few articles as he leafed back through the pages. There seemed to be a lot more political stuff than usual but he barely noticed it, ‘Usual adverts’ he thought, ‘Dixons sale, France for two pounds fifty, mmm nice tits on that…’, he finally flipped the paper over now, glancing at the front page as he stood to leave the. He sat down again, involuntary, with a jolt. Pete read the headline again, then he did stand up, raced into the lounge, and turned on the television set. Nothing, normal morning TV dross.
‘What the f…?’ thought Pete. “Pat!” he called, then not waiting for an answer, “PAT!”
She came running down the stairs “What’s the matter ?” she asked, a little breathless, “Someone died ?”
“Look, the paper” said Pete, pushing it towards her.
“For God’s sake. You already told me. Yelling like that. I thought you were dying or something. Spurs won you said. Six one. Whoopee.” She glanced at the clock, “and we’re late”.
“Not the bloody football. Look woman ! Read it”.
Pat read. She didn’t have to read much. The two word headline was enough. It filled most of the front page. It read “BLAIR ASSASSINATED” . Pat looked at Pete, then at the TV (it was showing the morning news now), then back at the paper again and finally back to Pete.
“I don’t get it “ she said.
“Look at the top of the paper” said Pete.
“The date, read the date woman”.
She did. “Its for Wednesday. But its Tuesday today. We’ve got tomorrow’s paper. How can they do that ?” she said, “ How do they know ?”
“Well they can’t know can they ?”
“But its here. Printed”. A knowing smile spread across her face. “Its that bloody Dave isn’t it ? It’s a wind up. I bet he had this knocked up as a joke. On us”.
“Well if he did, how did he arrange for the paper boy to deliver it – nearly caught the little bugger this morning stuffing it into the letter box.”
“Oh I dunno. Maybe he dropped him a couple of quid to do it ?”
“Well I don’t think it was Dave. I mean for a wind up? The paper has all the features and adds and everything “ he paused and opened the paper again, this time noting the pages devoted to the rise and rise of the Prime Minister, Tony Blair MP. Then there were the tributes and other articles, all of which he had so casually skipped over a few minutes earlier, just not seeing them, “ and look at all this detail “ he continued “ Can you imagine the work involved to mock all this up ? No. If it was just the headline then maybe it could be a wind up, but this ?” He placed the paper on the table and opened his hands, mystified.
“Then there is only one other possible explanation “ said Pat.
“Which is ?”
“We do have tomorrow’s paper” She said.
“Er, you said, possible explanation” replied Pete.
“But it has to be. What else. Read the front page article, see what it says about it.”
Pete read the short paragraph that had been placed in the lower corner of the front page. Then he said to Pat, “Well it says that he was assassinated during a state visit by the Chinese Premier. Its pretty brief because I guess all the main stuff is inside, but it does say that one suspect was shot dead by SAS marksmen who had been stationed along the route – normal security I suppose. But hey, you don’t really think do you…” His words trailed off as he turned to his wife. She had been listening to Pete but with one eye on the TV at the same time. The announcer was talking of details about the state visit of the Chinese Premier. The visit that was to take place, tomorrow. Pete and Pat shared a knowing look at each other. It was Pete who spoke first.
“They’ll never believe us” he said, knowing what she was about to say, “They’ll think its just some nut”.
“Is there anything in there that might not have been known until after the event ?” asked Pat.
“Spurs won ?”
“No stupid, something to do with the state visit. Be serious”.
“Sorry. Let’s have a look.” Pete scanned two of the articles before looking up again.” I’m not really sure. They don’t give a lot away in here. Oh hang on, how about this” he said and began to read out loud again ‘Months of secret talks preceded the historic meeting in Downing Street at which the Chinese Government agreed to sweeping human rights reforms in exchange for Britain’s backing China as a member of a new Europe-Asia trading alliance. That agreement had already been made on the final issues that so far have prevented such an economic union had been a closely guarded secret until yesterday (“that’s today of course “ interjected Pat) when the true purpose of the visit was revealed at a press conference.’ “…and it goes on “ said Pete. “Do you think it will do ?”.
“We can try it” said Pat.
“And if they don’t believe us ?”
“I don’t really see what else we can do”.
“This is mad” said Pete suddenly, “Who is going to believe some cock and bull story that we have a paper, well let’s face it, we are saying we have a paper from the future!”
“Yes, it does seem a bit daft doesn’t it” agreed Pat, sheepishly.
“But what if…?” Pete left the question trail
“What if we do have a paper from the future ? Wish it was Thursday’s”, Pat finished the question for Pete.
“Why Thursday ?”
“Well then we would have the lottery numbers wouldn’t we silly?”
“Oh yeah. Shame there’s no racing either, thanks to the Foot and Mouth, again.”
Pete thought moment, “But I could put a few quid on the Spurs result.”
“So do you believe it then ?” asked Pat.
“No, not really” replied Pete, “I don’t know what has happened here, but papers from the future, I mean….”his voice trailed off
“So what do you want to do then ?”
“I suppose an anonymous phone call won’t hurt – I can use the phone box on the corner, and I might bung a tenner on Spurs – you never know.”
“Yes, but all the same….”mused Pat.
“Don’t go there. Its just somebody having a laugh. Bet you are right and it was Dave all along. If I ever see him again…”
Pat looked at the clock again. “We’re running late now” she said” C’mon, let’s go”.
Pat Ellis worked in an office block in the City of London. Pete’s job as a Computer Network specialist took him all over the country and often to Europe too. That he had an assignment today in the City also meant that he could drop Pat off for a change. Today they could both sit in the long jam of traffic that was the daily commute into London along the M4. Now they were running late and traffic would be a nightmare. Leaving the newspaper upon the table they left the house and set out for the Capitol. Apart from the expected morass of traffic the journey was uneventful, Pete dropped his wife off, and made his way to The Barbican. He was able to park without a problem thanks to the pass he had been given for the day’ work. As he locked his car he realized that he had not made the phone call he had intended to make.
He thought about it a bit more then thought, ‘Oh what the hell’. Spying a public telephone in the corner of the car park he walked to it and picked up the receiver. After a few seconds he shook his head and replaced the receiver, and then found his way to the lifts that led from the car park area, up into the building. He emerged from the lift to meet a row of Policemen, or at least Pete thought they were Policemen in their black combat suits and helmets. Each man had a Heckler and Koch machine gun slung over his shoulder. They looked as though they could and would, use them.
“And where did you spring from Sir ?“ asked the first Police Officer
“The car park” replied Pete, motioning below.
“Mind if we take a look in your case please Sir ?”
Pete handed over his brief case. The Officer dispatched two of his colleagues to the lower level car park with instructions to remain there and check everybody, before they entered the lift. “That’s okay Sir” said the policeman as he returned the briefcase, “May I ask the nature of your business here ?”
“Yes, I am network specialist. Got to set up some kind of conference here today. Security is a bit over the top isn’t it ?” replied Pete, trying to make small talk.
“Yes Sir. Expecting the Prime Minister. I imagine that is what your job is about.”
Pete was stunned. “So its here then ?” he said.
“What’s here Sir ?”
“The Press conference. The Chinese Premier ?” he blurted out.
The Officer was silent for a moment, then he spoke into a small microphone that was attached to his helmet. He listened to a brief reply and nodded. Turning back to Pete he said “I am afraid I will have to ask you to come with me for a few moments.” He smiled then, a cold professional smile, “It should only take a minute or two Sir”, and he led Pete away.
The interrogation started off quite causally, name, address and so on. Who do you work for, married, got any kids ? The odd curve thrown in, are you a member of the communist party ? Have you ever served a custodial sentence ? But it got tougher. Subtly. One step at a time. Pete needed to use a toilet. No. It became uncomfortable. His mouth dry they gave him water, as much as he liked. His discomfort grew now as the toilet facilities were denied to him. Pete didn’t really have track of time, didn’t know that it was three hours before he began to talk about the newspaper, didn’t know that when he did one of the black garbed men was dispatched to his house to collect it. Pete certainly didn’t know that his son had called in later that morning, had picked up a cardboard box from the garage and used two or three newspapers to pack a car part he was returning under warranty. His son didn’t bother to check the dates of the papers, just grabbed a few. It wasn’t the first time. Certainly wouldn’t be the last.
Returning empty handed, the Officer (soldier might be a more accurate title, trooper would be totally correct), spoke the Pete’s interrogator. The pain in Pete’s bladder was now as intense as he could bear. He knew if he could not relieve himself soon then he would have to, where he sat. After the two soldiers had conferred, they allowed Pete that relief. At first he was unable to pass any water at all, but then, at last a tiny trickle began, and then finally a flood as his bladder emptied. Pete remembered an old saying then, ‘As good as shag when you really need to go’. It was.
After another hour a decision was made and Pete was released to do his work. There was just one more hour before the arrival of the Prime Minister now, precious little time for the comms links that Pete needed to establish. He worked as fast as he could, still badly shaken by his long interrogation, oblivious to the soldier assigned to watch him, and only him. Pete could hear the motor cavalcade. He was making some connections to the equipment that was housed to one side of a small stage from which the Prime Minister would make his speech, and checking the system with his Laptop computer. An electrician was checking the lighting cables that ran behind the stage. An authoritative looking man in an immaculately cut pin stripe suit and wearing a pair of deeply polished black Oxford brogues spoke to two of the soldiers who responded instantly, moving off to perform their duties.
The man crossed to Pete and the electrician and instructed them both to move back now to either side where they could remain if they wished. Pete stayed on his side of the stage, nervously scanning the screen of his still connected laptop computer. The electrician seemed to melt away in an instant. One moment he was there, next he had gone. The PM stepped onto the stage and the Chinese Premier followed. Both men shook hands as a hundred flash guns fired and reporters waited for a byline to ‘echo around the world’. They would not have to wait for long.
A million words would be written over what happened next. A thousand hours of TV programs would dissect every image available. Every pundit who had ever made a political statement would offer their view, of events, of the man. What did happen next took only a second but did indeed, echo around the world. As the PM grasped the hand of the Chinese Premier, the electrician suddenly reappeared. He rolled out from under the stage, rising to his feet in one fluid motion as at the same time he brought to bear the weapon that he now held in his hand, upon the Prime Minister. Simultaneously the movement had been seen by Pete (and by a number of other watching eyes). Pete saw only the gun in the electrician’s hand. He had never seen a hand gun that close before and was surprised by the size of the Desert Eagle. His shocked brain did not register the four red dots (wouldn’t have known that they were the tell tale dots of laser gun sights if he had seen them) as they tracked across the chest of the assassin. Pete dived across the corner of the stage, directly at the hand holding the weapon. The electrician squeezed the trigger gently, even at that supreme moment, careful, calculating, cold. At exactly the millisecond that the high grain soft nosed bullet from the Desert Eagle entered the back of the Prime Minister’s head so three of the read laser dots on the assassin became bullet entry holes. The fourth laser dot was now on the back of Pete’s head as he came between the marksman and his target. Pete’s hand grasped the assassin’s gun and his momentum had carried him on forwards. The dot on Pete’s head became a bullet entry also, each laser dot receiving two bullets as the SAS marksmen ‘double tapped’ their targets. The special rounds that the SAS chambered were even able to penetrate the Kevlar protection that the electrician wore underneath his baggy blue overalls, but with far less effect .The Chinese Premier now lay on the stage, his body invisible behind a wall of SAS troopers.
The blood, brains and bone splinters of Pete and the PM made sticky pools around the stage. Peter Ellis and the PM lay dead. The assassin would not die for another two days.
Twenty minutes later, Spurs scored the first of six goals that they would score against Reading (conceding only one). At six that evening Pat gave up trying to raise Pete on his mobile and also gave up waiting for her promised lift home. She set off for Bank underground station. As she hurried towards the station she half noticed the noise from the sirens of what seemed like more than the usual number of Police cars hurting through the narrow streets. From Bank she took the tube to Euston, and from there a train home. Somebody in the railway carriage was listening intently to a Walkman radio. Pat sat on her grubby seat in the cold and dirty carriage, the strange events of the morning far from her mind as she thought “That bloody sod, Pete.. I’ll kill him when I get in. Never has his mobile on…” The person with the Walkman looked up and said “Can’t believe it about Tony Blair. Have you heard ?”
(c) Mike Houghton 2005