Monday, October 29

The Waiting Game

You could just about make out the tiny, strawberry tip of her tongue sticking out as she concentrated on her movements. She knew that getting the combination right was all that mattered and her face was Mona Lisa-like; the ghost of a smile suggested itself at the corner of her mouth but her eyes betrayed the inner demons of fear. They were waiting there for that one slip of the foot, one suggestion of disruption in her focus before she completed the sequence of the ritual. It almost came. As she made her final leap, she noticed the bluish wisp out of the corner of her eye and it rattled the gates to her own personal hell. Her leg, so sure until that instant, landed awkwardly, wavered, shivered, but ultimately stayed put. “Too close”, she thought. It was done, for now. In illogical indignation, she turned toward what had almost caused her failure.

Some distance away was the villain, a svelte spire in the shaded doorway, slowly rising toward inevitable dispersion. The cigarette was the only indulgence he had allowed himself in all those years, but it still made him slightly uncomfortable. He would have preferred to be completely imperceptible, but for what he did and how he did it, it was a small concession. Or so he hoped. Articles about lung cancer had been flooding the papers in recent years and each garish headline and each obstinate statistic only served to remind him of mortality. But he was a cynic, if nothing else and told himself that people died mundane deaths everyday. He had seen men go in myriad ways and as he unconsciously glanced at his hands, reminded himself that he had personally contributed quite a few. He had a reputation in that department and it helped. In the circles that really mattered, his sobriquet was ‘Katana’ and both he and the infamous Japanese blade were blood-brothers; they were swift, sure, and deadly. Unlike the yellow-haired warrior in the latest action flick however, his weapon of choice was a gun.

He had always prided himself on his ability to remain perfectly still when waiting. That was one of the tenets of his ilk, after all. He had done it numerous times over the years, many times in horrendous weather and he smiled as he thought of the time he had to be suspended by ropes to… but forcefully shook himself out of his trance. At the back of his mind, relentlessly eating away into the core of his brain was the thought that this time was different, this time there had been an ultimatum and consequently, there was pressure. He hated pressure. It stifled him and robbed him of the feral instincts that were a large part of his legendary skill. But, he reminded himself, they were not the only contributors. He could, he would, make sure he was successful, pressure or not. He was ruthless in that regard. But there was stress, which he could not deny and it caused him to move to adjust his position and the doorway momentarily offered no protection. She saw him then and she also saw the gun at his side. It rooted her to the spot some distance away behind him and her child-like fascination ensured that she would be a witness. She craned her neck to trace his line of sight and found herself facing the white marble steps and imposing doors of the City Administration building. A small crowd was milling about and she could make out cameras and television crews as they readied themselves. A reporter she recognized from the local news channel was nervously patting her hair and plaintively asking the cameraman whether she looked okay. His answer was to nod in an exasperated and completely unconvincing way which only caused her to fidget even more. Suddenly, the buzz increased as the doors began to open slowly and the reporter, all frantic a moment earlier, now confidently faced the camera and began addressing the lens. One could hear snatches of words… “Senator Smith… nominated for the… votes have been counted… possible victory…”

The striking looking lady in the smart blue business suit made her way out the doors and onto the steps, to be surrounded by flashes and rapidly fired questions. In this maelstrom, she remained calm, poised and seemed to be confidently answering the questions. Something in her demeanor suggested that she would be unfazed in any situation. In this case, the very air smelt of victory and the tentative flutters of celebration. She was noticed by both individuals across the road, him in the doorway and her, behind him.

He watched her; almost with admiration it would seem, mixed with a few stirrings of regret. It was now or never. Tensing himself, he stubbed out the cigarette, broke out of the protection of the doorway and began to briskly walk toward the crowd... toward the lady. Behind him, she noticed for the first time that he was dressed just as smartly, in a suit that matched the colour of the woman's, across the road. The gun was now just intermittently visible as his overcoat swayed with his strides. She realized that no one else knew what she knew, that no one else had even noticed him much less the gun and she tried to say something, to scream. But the words just wouldn’t come. She found herself unable to make even a slight movement and watched him crossing the road as dread, absorption and helplessness all rolled together in the pit of her stomach.

She stared as he crossed the road and made his way up the steps, one at a time, almost deliberately delaying his approach. The lady noticed him too and for the first time, the confidence in her face wavered but she continued to address those surrounding her. The crowd of reporters and pressmen continued to chatter and the noise reached a crescendo as he expertly weaved his way through, relentlessly getting nearer. Across the road, she held her breath without meaning to, as his arms dropped to his side and in a quicksilver movement, broke through and came face to face with the lady.

The cameras flashed furiously as the man with the gun enveloped the senator in a hug. Once again, one could hear phrases… “Congratulations, darling… didn’t expect to see you… got out of work early… made me promise... shall we ?” The local news reporter accosted them as they walked down the steps and began asking them questions. The couple smiled at each other as they turned to face the television camera.

Across the road, in the Home for Orphaned Children with Disabilities, the mute girl turned away and continued her game of hopscotch. She was on Square 7 when the shots rang out, just two of them.

Headlines: Senator Laura Smith and her husband, Police Commissioner Paul Smith were assassinated yesterday. The gunman, a local news channel cameraman…

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