Read by Avin Shah
The terrorists had already had extraordinary luck.
A sentry lost interest just before he would have undoubtedly uncovered the weapons in the back of their truck. A girl undressing at a window had caught the attention of an officer who waved them through a checkpoint impatiently, just before the numberplates of their stolen van could be checked. An anti-tank shell screaming directly at their truck had been intercepted by a tourist bus, approaching the city at speed on the other carriageway. Over twenty people had died, but the terrorists had escaped without a scratch. They were, they acknowledged among themselves, extraordinarily lucky.
Then Farlo won the state lottery.
There was no doubt about it. They listened to the numbers broadcast over their crackly radio, which (luckily) had better reception than usual that evening. They bought a newspaper the following day, just to make sure. The jackpot was over three million, as it was a roll-over week.
Should they, they wondered, take the money? Farlo had ticked the ‘no publicity’ box and would not feature in the usual ballyhoo – the giant cheque, the glamorous woman in a short skirt, the miscellaneous celebrity, the massed photographers. No, there would be none of that, and in the small print they noticed that a cheque could be paid into an overseas bank account if necessary.
Farlo was already celebrating. “Look, I’ll give each of you a few thousand,” he told them, smiling through his broken teeth, spitting out the cork he had just pulled from the neck of a bottle of raki. “For the sake of the hardships we’ve shared over the last few years. It’ll give you something to set up with. Enough to start a vegetable stall, or a barber shop.”
The tall, proud Vega rose to his feet, clutching his automatic weapon. He glowered at Farlo over the embers of the fire.
“So, you are asking us to sell out our principles for a few thousand? After all these years of struggle, after all we have been through? And what will you do, Farlo, when Izgid and his cronies come around asking where you might be, and would you be available to put a bomb on a bus perhaps, or mount a machine-gun attack on a checkpoint? We can hardly say that you are having cocktails at the Hilton.”
“Vega, Vega,” Farlo said, putting his arm round the shoulders of the big dark-haired man, and offering him the bottle. “For years, we have lived in this cave. For years, we have been killing and sometimes only just getting away with our lives. Remember the grenade that didn’t go off? Or the bus that came between us and that M11 shell?”
Vega chuckled. “Yes,” he said, reflectively; “Good times.”
“Vega,” Farlo said, “When was the last time you saw your family?”
“Oh, before the invasion, before the Generals took power.”
“Wouldn’t you like to go back and see them again? Settle down. Turn your back on all this? We have shouldered our share of the burden. Maklad is dead. Resoumi begs by the station, now that his legs are gone. We have done our bit. Now, God is telling us to go and enjoy ourselves with what little time we have left, see our families once more, live like normal people. What I wouldn’t give to be clean for once, to sleep in a bed.”
He turned to the third member of their cell. ”What do you say, Shiv?”
Shiv, a thin, studious man, looked darkly at him. “With this money, we could buy Kalashnikovs, night-vision equipment, perhaps a jet fighter.”
“Oh God,” said Farlo. In his mind, he was already on the beach at Monte Carlo, with two girls called Brigitte and Nicole, his hair cut and oiled, wearing Ray-Bans and with his broken teeth fixed.
“Haven’t you had enough of this, Shiv? Doing nothing for weeks on end, eating out of cans, sitting here stinking and then going out like thieves to shoot and bomb and kill, and nearly getting killed ourselves? There are holes in my shoes and the gelignite is sweating. I tell you, I have had enough!”
Farlo paused and scratched his head under his fatigue cap, the cap that he thought made him look a little like Che Guevara.
“Look, for the sake of old times, I am willing to pool the money, divide it equally between all of us. If you really want to make a gesture, then we could take some off the top to fund a squad of mercenaries, maybe for a year or so. Some Congolese or Yemenis perhaps. They won’t mind the violence. That way, we still participate, but we get out of it too. How would that be?”
They talked it over for the next two days. Shiv couldn’t remember who his family was or where he lived, but Farlo reminded him of a girl he used to go to school with, a girl that he used to talk of in the early days in the mountains when he had first joined the rebels. Now, when Farlo reminded him of her, he went all misty-eyed. “You’ll find her,” Farlo said and explained to him about Friends Reunited.
“In a few years,” Farlo said dreamily, leaning back against the pile of weapons, “there’ll be Rebels Reunited. We’ll have peace and we’ll be able to talk to all the people we’ve shared our struggle with.”
“Not Izgid,” said Shiv darkly.
Farlo sat up. “No, perhaps not Izgid,” agreed Farlo.
Vega had by this time mentally bought a few camels and was trading silks, hashish and cocaine on the old trail that led to the south and the bustling markets there. The markets were not so bustling since they had bombed the route twice, with much loss of life, but still, Vega thought, a man could make a good living in that way.
“These mercenaries,” Vega asked Farlo one night when Shiv was snoring by the fire, “Will they bomb the markets in the South?"
“They will do whatever Izgid tells them, I expect,” said Farlo, thinking of the leather seats in the jet that would whisk him away to Europe and Western decadence.
“Then,” said Vega, “I am against the mercenaries.”
Shiv was dreaming of a hut near an oasis, quiet, but not totally off the beaten track, where he could set up home with Yasmina, the girl he had been at school with, somewhere that he could get a good price for yams. He would examine the possibility of a Coca-Cola franchise on the side. He imagined Yasmina, gazing up into his eyes, listening to stories of his rebel past, stroking the barrel of his Uzi.
By now, they were all agreed. The one problem, and it was a big one, was Izgid.
They had seen the ghastly remains of his vengeance attacks against his own people who had threatened to withdraw from the fray. They had seen them dismembered, strung up with piano wire, beheaded. Somehow, his treatment of his own seemed worse than that which he meted out to the enemy. He had proved on many occasions to be utterly without pity, and now he stood between them and their comfortable future.
They wished the ground would open up and swallow him. They prayed for him to be gathered to his fathers.
They were thinking about these things, sitting smoking on the edge of the ridge around the cave, when they saw a patrol of government soldiers working their way around the mountain to the West. That meant they must withdraw deep into the cave where they stored their munitions. They must light no fires, eat only cold tinned food, post sentries round the clock, talk only in whispers, listen.
During this time, the money spoke to them about its destiny.
It became small investments on the stock exchange. It bought parcels of land in seaside regions which would be planted with date palms. It paid workers to improve the pavements around the houses of their relatives. It purchased radios and pedal-powered generators for mothers and uncles so that they would never have to rely on the state for lighting or news again. It bought footballs and Nintendo games for nephews and cousins. All the while, they each sat on cool verandahs, and felt the comfortable weight of a money bag around their waists.
In their minds, the economy was booming and the regime did not pick up people at random for torture.
Farlo was way ahead of the rest. He was already dreaming that he had flown secretly to Hawaii, negotiating to sell his story to the papers or the CIA.
He would, he knew, have to think about making his story more interesting. No one would pay for a tale of a few dirty, disaffected souls who had got into a routine of random violence. He must invent complex networks, underground bunkers, conspiracies and double-dealing, the involvement of rebel states, laundered drug money, mysterious figures with psychopathic imaginations and sadistic intent. He thought of Izgid.
When they were sure that the Government soldiers had left the area, they emerged, blinking, into the sunshine once more. The troops had come as far as the ravine, but had then retreated, not seeing the difficult track that led over the peaks. Shiv went down that night to the village to get news, and find out more about what the soldiers had been looking for. He came back with a newspaper which had a story about the lottery tickets that remained unclaimed, and which would be invalidated if the ticket-holders did not come forward in the next few days.
That evening, the secure radio crackled into life. It was Izgid. He would not be in touch for a while, he said. There was a task he had to fulfil. It would be difficult and dangerous, but, rather than entrust such a mission to anyone else, he would do it himself. He had always said, he told them, that there was nothing he would ask them to do that he would not himself undertake. (“When did he say that?” Farlo asked behind his hand, thinking of Maklad’s suicide mission). The task would be particularly hazardous. He would be away for at least a week and would be preserving radio silence. Their glory would live for ever, he told them.
Farlo spoke to Shiv and Vega. Izgid’s secret mission would be the ideal opportunity to claim their money, pack the cash into saddlebags and cross the mountains to safety. To be absolutely sure, they waited three days. Then Farlo set out for the city. He was in the bus station when he saw the newspapers.
“Terrorist Slaughter!” screamed the headlines, and he read how Izgid and his followers had been ambushed by government forces and killed. In three provinces, the story went on, the government had successfully lured prominent terrorists to their doom with faked winning lottery tickets. There was a photo of Izgid lying in the gutter, his body broken, his face still just recognizable, though twisted in agony, with thousands of fake banknotes blown from the sack he still clutched, swirling round him in the wind.
Farlo missed the small item on page two, which said that the real lottery winner had still not come forward and repeated the numbers of the winning ticket, the numbers which he had selected a few weeks before.
Farlo took out his ticket and ripped it into small fragments. Slowly, he let the fragments flutter through his fingers, sighed gently, and picked up his bag, turning his mind again to the disposal of the unstable gelignite.
© Michael Spring, 2012
Michael Spring writes occasional fiction under his own name and on sport as Jeff Blakeney. He loves horse racing, books and his family, but perhaps not in that order. Brittle Star, Fieldstone Review, Volume and Radio Ulster are among those who have published and broadcast him. He lives in London. He blogs at http://musicoftime.wordpress.com/
Avin Shah’s credits include Eastenders, Casualty and The Bill, seven feature films and four productions with the RSC. He has appeared at the New Vic, Soho and Royal Court theatres, in England People Very Nice at the National Theatre and as Benvolio in Romeo & Juliet at the Royal Exchange Manchester. He also plays the Afghan terrorist villain in action thriller Born of War, due out in 2013.