On the steps leading from Bank Tube Station’s north exit, Ralph Jones instantly recognised the woman barging past him. Her swarthy Middle Eastern features were infamous, as were those fathomless, deathly black eyes.
“Oi! It’s Nadeen What’s-Her-Name,” shouted Ralph, pointing an accusing finger. “That evil terrorist cow what’s always on the news.”
Nadeen Al-Saloni’s stride momentarily faltered. She turned and gave Ralph a malignant stare, as if daring him to repeat his accusation. Then she continued hurriedly on her way, lugging a heavy-looking briefcase after her.
The movement of commuters on the stairway fell from an unenthusiastic, rush hour trudge to a complete standstill. Everyone stopped and gawped at Britain’s most wanted terrorist making good her escape.
For a second Ralph considered tackling the woman. He fantasised about the plaudits, the fame, the monetary reward he would receive for her apprehension. Then he recalled the Scotland Yard spokesman pronouncing that the woman should be considered armed and extremely dangerous.
When all was said and done, Ralph was no have-a-go hero.
By word of mouth, news of the woman’s identity passed upwards, along the chain of stalled commuters, following Nadeen Al-Saloni to ground level. With her hunter’s eyes now the eyes of the hunted, she sought an escape route from the mounting groundswell of antipathy.
“It’s Nadeen Al-Saloni!” the hordes of Central London pedestrians shouted, echoing Ralph’s revelation.
Blinking in the sudden sunlight, Ralph emerged from the tube station exit. He scanned the street for the fleeing terrorist and saw her entering the Almondo du Plog Building. Several policemen had joined what was developing into a half-hearted chase. It appeared Nadeen Al-Saloni had only two options open to her — either surrender to the policemen or try losing her pursuers inside the high rise building.
She chose the second option.
Metaphorically licking its lips in anticipation, the growing crowd of bystanders stopped and looked on. Then, to add to their excitement, a police helicopter moved into position overhead.
Five minutes later the voice of an office secretary called out from the office block opposite. “They’re on the roof!” she shouted, jabbing a finger upwards. “Nadeen and the coppers are on the roof!”
The next few seconds were a bit of a blur for Ralph. He was aware of the Middle Eastern woman standing precariously on the edge of the rooftop. Then came a muffled gunshot, followed by a collective intake of breath from the spellbound mob below. Next thing, the woman toppled off the roof and fell screaming into the nothingness between the twenty-fifth floor and the ground.
There was a squelchy thud as Nadeen Al-Saloni’s falling body made contact with the pavement.
On impact, something flew from the woman’s grasp, whacked Ralph on the forehead and fell at his feet. Ralph checked his brow for bleeding, but the flesh was merely sore. Gripped with curiosity he looked down at the object that had struck him. He discovered a bundle of fifty pound notes, unnoticed by the rest of the traumatised crowd, lying at his feet.
As if on an unspoken cue, the morbid audience came out of its collective trance. The women nearest the bloody, shattered corpse of Nadeen Al-Solani shrieked like distraught banshees, while a number of men vomited in the gutter.
Ralph, however, ignoring the bloodied corpse, surreptitiously bent down. “Finders, keepers,” he mumbled, picking up the money and concealing it under his coat.
On account of the morning’s events, Ralph opted to return home rather than go to work.
“This is evidence,” Matilda Jones insisted when her husband showed her his lucky find. “You should take it to the police.”
“It’s manna from heaven,” Ralph retorted. “Okay, I agree it’s terrorist money — but it fell into my lap. That’s Fate, innit? It’s like winning the lottery.”
Matilda crossed her arms and considered. “Well, I suppose we could do with some extra cash around the house.”
“Look on it as a windfall,” Ralph cajoled without a hint of irony, sensing that his wife was softening. “I mean, if I hadn’t recognised that woman, what would this money eventually have been used for? Buying weapons; that’s what! I did my country a service, so this money’s our reward.”
Matilda finally caved in. “Give it here,” she said, rubbing her thumb and forefinger together. “And not a word to anyone. I know what you’re like when you get down the pub.”
After counting out the money, Matilda announced a grand total of five thousand pounds. Removing two fifty pound notes from the wad, she said, “Jeanette wants a pair of fancy new trainers for the school holiday and Marco wants that computer game, Alien Annihilation IV.”
Ralph gave the nod and his wife went off to share their good fortune with their daughter and son.
Once she had gone, Ralph placed the rest of the money on the living room coffee table. Flopping in his favourite armchair, he switched on the television.
Breaking News, screamed the headline at the top of the screen. Terrorist Killed in Central London.
“Earlier this morning,” announced a dour-faced newscaster, “Britain’s notorious female terrorist, Nadeen Al-Saloni, plummeted to her death from the Almondo du Plog Building after being shot by a police marksman.”
The picture shifted from the newsroom to the view from the police helicopter hovering above the scene of the morning’s action.
“Al-Saloni,” the newsreader continued, “took to the rooftop of the building carrying a briefcase full of money. Her intention, say police sources, was to throw banknotes tainted with a neurological poison into the streets below. The dead terrorist apparently hoped that the ensuing scramble for money would cause the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians.
“Fortunately,” said the suddenly smug newscaster, “though Nadeen Al-Solani managed to open the briefcase, it’s believed she failed to disperse any of the toxic currency.”
In his living room, the TV remote fell from Ralph’s nerveless fingers. He wanted to shout a warning to Matilda, to Jeanette, to Marco, but when he tried opening his mouth only drool came out.
Paul A. Freeman lives and works in Abu Dhabi. He is the author of Rumours of Ophir, a crime novel set in Zimbabwe, and a children’s book, Kimberly Smith and the Pyramid Game. He has had several short stories published in anthologies, newspapers and magazines.